Joe Hart has struck back at those who say England have a duty to entertain, saying that the national team’s priority is to win matches, in the aftermath of Sunday’s turgid 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
The England goalkeeper said that in an “ideal” world the national team would do both but pointed to a great record in Euro 2016 qualifying, five wins out of five, with the only goal conceded being the one that Jordan Henderson put into his own net against Slovenia in November. Roy Hodgson’s team play their last qualifier of the season against the Slovenes in Ljubljana on 14 June.
Hart said: “We just want to win games. We all want to play well, have 45 passes, then someone chips the keeper and someone does a bicycle kick – but that is not realistic. We are playing against opposition who have the same responsibilities to their country. The ideal performance would be perfect and for everyone to love it, but we have to do a job. It is not an easy job but we love it and want to win games.”
On the criticism of the performance, not least from ITV, the match broadcaster, Hart was withering. “Everyone is a comedian nowadays,” he said. “You have to be used to that in football. People think they can say things about you and do things about you because they will never be face-to-face with you but I am used to that.
“I have had plenty of things from people who would not say it if it was to my face. Everyone is apparently entitled to their opinion. If someone said it to my face, I would maybe take it more seriously but while it is written by people who have no backing to what they are saying, it means nothing. We were there to do a job and if we get the result against Slovenia, this was worth it.”
Hart said that England’s best performance in recent months had been the second half against Italy in Turin in March. “I thought we were really good, really positive. We scared Italy. They were organised and they didn’t know what was happening.”
When Joe Hart signed for Manchester City in 2006 he joined a club which had a first-team squad that numbered nine senior English players in its ranks, as well as the Scots and Irish contingent. As things stand this summer he is the only Englishman in the squad, unless you count his fellow goalkeeper Richard Wright, who last played a game in November 2011.
It goes without saying that City have a much better team these days and, for all the good intentions about developing young English players, they have reached the point where the Etihad Campus generation are yet to make up the shortfall – if, indeed, they ever do. The departures of Frank Lampard, James Milner and Dedryck Boyata mean that Hart, along with the France international Gaël Clichy, are the only players who count as home-grown under the Premier League rules.
Speaking at the England team hotel in Hertfordshire, ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia on 14 June, Hart reflected on a season at City in which they had fallen short of the usual targets. The assurances from chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak the previous night, that money would be spent to rebuild this summer will mean they are in the market for the likes of Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne, although of those only Sterling qualifies as home-grown.
“It is a long summer ahead,” Hart said. “Losing Frank and James, I am not in the discussions of transfers but I imagine with home-grown players and stuff like that, it will be top of their list to bring in English players or to promote some of the lads. I am sure we will have a good balanced squad come the start of the season.”
He added: “On a personal note, I am very sad to see him [Milner] go as he is a personal friend. I have enjoyed every moment with him, but football is football. We have been in the game a long time and it is business, his decision and the club’s decision. I wish him all the best as he is a fantastic player but that is not the end of me and him. We have our personal relationship off the pitch.”
As for City’s season, Hart said that a combination of Chelsea’s dominance and his own side going “on a bad run at the wrong time” meant that they could never get close enough to the eventual champions. “I am very confident in Manchester City as a club,” he said, “which is why I committed my future. I think what they are doing is fantastic. He is a great chairman. They have done amazing things since coming. That is definitely now down to us.”
Hart, outspoken on the criticism of England’s performance against the Republic of Ireland on 7 June, and insistent that they had shown how well they could play in the second half against Italy in March, has had a much better season personally. Against Swansea last month his save from Federico Fernandez’s header was arguably the greatest he has pulled off yet and he goes into the last England qualifier of the season as the indisputable No 1 for his country.
The clean sheet against Ireland means that Hart has passed Ray Clemence in the all-time list to go fourth among England goalkeepers for shut-outs with 28 in 51 caps. Ahead of him are Gordon Banks on 35, David Seaman (40) and the all-time leader Peter Shilton with 66. It was not an achievement Hart was aware of until it was pointed out to him, but he has had a good qualifying run so far – only Jordan Henderson has scored against him, in the Slovenia game at Wembley in November.
“England-wise, we have regrouped and regrouped well,” he said. “We are in a fine place at the moment, we are getting our identity back and we are building hope and looking to qualify as soon as possible and go to France optimistic and prepared.
“Football moves on – as bad as the World Cup was, we have another opportunity. It’s as simple as that. It was difficult but we are moving into the Euros, there is nothing we can do about the World Cup, and we are looking to build. We can only bring in new players and get as many blooded, meaning we have lots of options if and when we qualify for the Euros.”
Like many of the players, Hart said that the Ireland game, for all its lack of excitement, had been a necessary exercise to prepare for Sunday’s game. In his case, he had been able to refresh his “lines and angles”. From his position at the back, the England keeper is able to assess his team-mates and he said that having “set the game up” with a solid defensive performance, they were unable to score the goals to win the match.
“We need to do well in France [at Euro 2016 ]. We need to win our games in qualifiers. We need to build, do well in the friendlies. We need to beat Slovenia, keep an unbeaten run and qualify as soon as possible – we have started something and we need to build the momentum.”Reuse content