Roy Hodgson knows England's future is in safe hands with Joe Hart
Joe Hart has solved the goalkeeping conundrum and could go on to pick up more than 100 caps
In each of the last four tournaments England have played, they have begun with a new goalkeeper. In fact, not since the days of David Seaman, who played in two European Championships (1996 and 2000) and two World Cup finals (1998 and 2002), has a goalkeeper played games in two successive tournaments.
Seaman's last tournament was in 2002, which ended with him being beaten by Ronaldinho's speculative effort for Brazil in the quarter-finals and then crying in front of the press afterwards. Seaman lost his place that October and was succeeded at Euro 2004 by David James, who subsequently lost his place to Paul Robinson for a World Cup qualifier against Poland the same year.
Robinson was in goal for the 2006 World Cup finals before falling out of favour at the end of Steve McClaren's doomed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Fabio Capello never liked the look of Robinson and he picked James consistently until he had a shoulder operation in May 2009. Robert Green got his chance and kept his place. Even Ben Foster played two games before the 2010 World Cup finals.
For the first World Cup game against the United States, Capello kept everyone waiting, including his goalkeepers, to announce his first choice on the day of the game. Green was picked, made a bad mistake for Clint Dempsey's goal and James was reinstated for the three remaining games England played. He was probably at fault for the third of Germany's four goals in the first knockout round defeat.
Since then James has not been picked in another squad for England. At 41, he has left Bristol City and is without a club. Green's appearance against Norway in Oslo last month was his first for England since the US game at the World Cup almost two years ago. Foster is now retired from international football. In a nutshell, it has not been a great decade for England goalkeepers. Since Seaman's decline, none before the incumbent inspired the confidence that they were a natural fit for the job.
Joe Hart changed all that. As long as he stays fit, his goalkeeper is one position that Roy Hodgson does not have to worry about. It's a significant proviso because after Hart is Green, who was close to retiring from international football around one year ago. Beyond Hart is Jack Butland, an excellent young prospect who, at 18 years old, does not deserve to be thrust into an important tournament or qualifier game just yet.
Hodgson has taken over England just as Hart's career has truly taken off. He has been Manchester City and England's No 1 for two years now. He is just 25 and he plays as if he could go on for another 10 years and 100 caps. He has had no problems with injuries and has been in every squad since the last World Cup. He has missed just two of the 17 games during that time, both in order that others could be given first-team experience.
Hodgson said after Saturday's win over Belgium that Hart, who had kept the eighth clean sheet of the 15 games in which he has started for England, was a vital component of his team. "If you look at the top England teams of the past and the teams that have done extremely well in the past, we have often had a goalkeeper that people have suggested is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe or, in the case of Gordon Banks, one of the best in the world," Hodgson said.
"I agree 100 per cent with Brian Clough's view. He always placed great faith in goalkeepers. He felt that got you a lot of points every year. He produces the save that a normal goalkeeper wouldn't. That lifts your team higher up the league. It also gives confidence, which is another factor."
Hart already has more England caps than some famous goalkeepers, such as his City predecessor Joe Corrigan (nine) and Peter Bonetti (seven). In the event, albeit unlikely, of England reaching the Euro 2012 final, and Hart plays all six games, he will go into the top 10 of the all-time most-capped England goalkeepers. It is a privileged position that the best hang on to for a long time. Only five goalkeepers – Peter Shilton, Seaman, Banks, Ray Clemence and James – have more than 50 caps.
"I agree he [Hart] will be vital," Hodgson said. "When he has played for England he has done very well. If we are to do well there is no doubt we will need Joe Hart in top form."
It is an interesting statistic, but one worth pointing out. When Hart turned 25 in April this year, he had won 17 caps. When Shilton turned 25 in September 1974, he had won 20 caps for England, and in the next 15 years he won another 105, which would have been more but for Clemence. Hart has begun his career as England No 1 early, and you get the impression that, unlike his three tournament predecessors, he will still be No 1 in two years' time.
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