Thursday, 27 January 2011

Hart told to maintain focus

It was always going to be a matter of time before people were going to start asking questions about whether Joe Hart should be England's first choice number one. The Manchester City stopper is going through the first bad patch in his short career and the 23-year-old has come in for some criticism. It seems a touch unfair to have a go at Hart after his stunning early season form but Fabio Capello has felt the need to come out to warn his keeper about the importance of focusing on consistency.

"He has made mistakes but, also, he is young. I think it is important for him to understand that he has to be focused in every moment of the game," he said.

Although Hart was clearly to blame for Andy King's equaliser in City's FA Cup tie with Leicester, to cast him as culpable for Darren Bent's debut winner for Villa last week is way off the mark. Hart pulled off a smart save from Ashley Young's curling effort and it was only down to the slowness of his defenders reactions that allowed Bent to snap up the loose ball. The football odds suggested City should have won that game, but it's not Hart's fault they didn't.

Beside the fact that England need to show their goalkeeper some belief and backing, there isn't an obvious choice for who would replace Hart. Ben Foster has had his own form issues this season and isn't in the best form for Birmingham. Rob Green is doing all he can for West Ham but he is still the keeper of a side bottom of the league and one the football betting tips indicate will be relegated.

The unfortunate thing is that the Premier League's form keeper is Paul Robinson, but the Blackburn number one has hung up his international gloves and is steadfast in his decision to focus on his club career. All that means, rather than trying to question Hart's ability to handle being England's number one, they should focus on backing the man that has more than enough potential to be one of the world's best goalkeepers. If Peter Shilton can amass 100 plus caps then Joe Hart can certainly establish a legacy as England's best ever keeper.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Joe needs to take Hart

His own manager managed to sum it up best earlier in the week. “Joe lacks concentration” said Roberto Mancini, cutting him down to a size impractical for a goalkeeper.

But the Italian had a point. Darren Bent’s much publicised pounce on a Hart error that led to their downfall (although some might suggest that their inability to put the ball in the Villa net despite the hatful of opportunities probably didn’t help) means the man touted as England’s number one for some time to come will have to take reflect and take stock.

Hart’s goalkeeping ability hasn’t diminished from the start of the season when his name was on everyone’s lips. Ashley Young tested him with a good long range effort in the first half while he had to be sharp to narrow the angle and smother the ball with the help of two of his defenders to stop Bent putting Villa 2-0 up in the dying minutes. It’s just the man who started the season on fire has dwindled down to a slight glow after a succession of mistakes prompted his manager to speak out.

In an era marked with English goalkeeping errors most looked to Hart as a beacon of consistency and hoped he would take up where David Seaman left off. The fact he appears to have fallen foul of the same curse that did for the likes of Scott Carson, Robert Greene and David James will worry England fans. What is it about the English goalkeeper gloves that unnerves even the most confident of goalkeepers in possession of them?

Of late Hart has produced more errors than he would have liked; a rushed clearance offering Villa a chance at the weekend, and a mistake in the FA Cup tie against Leicester prompted his manager to suggest “without Joe’s mistake the replay wouldn’t be happening”.

Contrast that with Paul Robinson’s excellent performance against West Brom on Sunday; The man who is still haunted by a bobble of a ball on a cold Croatian night has looked like a new man of late and could well take Hart’s place in goal when Denmark are the opponents in little over two weeks’ time. Although unlikely, the performance of Robinson will likely see football betting patterns move back towards him.

England and Manchester City will rightly believe that Hart is the man for the job in the long run; his natural exuberance and confidence coupled with his extraordinary athleticism make for a lethal combination, and if he can heed Mancini’s warning then the discussion surrounding England’s number one will be no more.

At 23, Hart displays qualities way beyond his years while also betraying his age with some of his decision making. But Mancini is the right man to keep him on track; recent media comments about Adam Johnson gives an indication of his attempts to keep the younger members of his squad grounded and one suspects his comments were designed to do more than criticise Hart. Reports of his downfall are somewhat premature; a clever man would likely place football bets that the unflappable Hart ends the season in the manner he began it.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

England fans urge Mancini to give youth a chance

Even though international football has been off the agenda for some time now, with Premier League and Champions League concerns occupying the back pages of the newspapers in recent weeks, Fabio Capello will no doubt be keeping a close eye on the development of a couple of players he and many England fans believe will play a crucial role in the future of the team in the build-up to the Euro 2012 tournament and beyond.

Although Capello will obviously be delighted at the role that Jack Wilshere is playing at Arsenal, who finally look like they have the level of grit and determination in midfield required to sustain a title challenge until the closing weeks of the season, he won't be quite as happy with the way in which Manchester City are utilising the talents of young Adam Johnson. The football odds indicate City will mount a title challenge, but the young winger hasn't been given much of an opportunity to be part of it.

Johnson made a flying start to his career at City after moving from Middlesbrough a year ago and it initially seemed that those who doubted how wise the move was, with the club investing heavily in star names along with the likes of Johnson, would be silenced sooner rather than later.

However, since then, with the likes of James Milner adding another dimension to the City midfield and with the experienced David Silva providing the sort of pace and injection of cutting edge up front and along the wings that Johnson is also able to provide, Johnson's opportunities have been limited, despite cries from the terraces demanding Roberto Mancini to give the youngster a chance. In the future, England's hopes of upsetting the football betting and winning a major tournament will be down to players like Johnson, and they need experience at the highest level.

With City apparently unwilling to let the player go out on loan, let alone leave the club for good, and the player also thought to be keen to secure a future at Eastlands, England fans will just be hoping that Mancini puts faith in youth at the club sooner rather than later.