Once the poster boy of a shampoo brand, Joe Hart’s demise has been nothing short of hair-raising.
The latest blunder in a long line of mishaps occurred against Stoke on Monday night, as he inexplicably fumbled a tame shot straight into the path of Peter Crouch. Only an Andy Carroll equaliser stopped West Ham from being dragged further into a relegation scrap.
Squillions have been squandered on transfers in the Premier League era but there have scarcely been few more disastrous loan deals.
The Hammers reportedly shelled out £4.5 million, to Hart and City combined, for the season. What they’ve got is an out-of-sorts, gaffe-prone relic of his former self who has made as many errors leading to goals this season (four) as any other English keeper in the Premier League put together. Hart’s appeared in 18 games – the rest a total of 179.
England manager Gareth Southgate is an astute man and he should quickly come to the conclusion that there is no logical reason for Hart to be included in his World Cup squad.
That a player on the wane can offer leadership qualities in Russia is a paper-thin argument as, even with him being England’s third-string keeper, few in that dressing room would think he is deserving of his place.
Indeed the battle to save his international career has been over for a while. Now it’s fair to wonder whether Hart realises he is in a battle to save his career full stop.
Pep Guardiola has double-locked the doors back into the Etihad and there is surely no team in the world, not even in England, who would contemplate handing over six figures a week to this iteration of Hart.
There is a way back to respectability for Hart. Firstly Manchester City must not hold both him and a potential suitor to ransom, as they have failed to offload him permanently so far due to an exorbitant price tag.
He must also go somewhere that is both away from the spotlight – a West Ham side who had over-inflated expectations was a match made in hell – and where he can regain his swagger.
At his best, Hart was unshakable. One minute he could make a blunder, the next a world-class save. A place out of the public eye but where he can feel important, at the bottom of the Premier League or even the top of the Championship, would be ideal.
Pride has to be swallowed. To get back to where he wants to be, being an average Joe is the best place to start.
Spurs, who face Brighton on Tuesday, are fourth in the table despite a lower financial outlay than their rivals and playing at Wembley while their new ground is built.
“In football it’s about this, it is to be clear who you are and then to try to maximise your potential,” said Pochettino, whose side can still finish second in the table behind champions Manchester City.
“At Tottenham for us it is to be brave, to believe, to work hard, to work harder than other clubs that the people consider are at our level,” said the Argentine.
He said Spurs had made big strides in recent years and were now consistently challenging at the top end of the Premier League table.
“Now we are there but I think for me the most important thing is that we are there with a completely different way, or different tools of course, to teams like City or Manchester United,” he said.
👊 This week
👤 Chris Hughton
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 16, 2018
“You can work unbelievably hard, you can have these ideas on football as a coach or a coaching staff,” added Pochettino, whose side have 67 points, four fewer than Jose Mourinho’s United, in second.
“But then you need the principal actors to deliver this idea and of course if you have better players, better quality… if you want a bigger house you need to pay what the market says.
“In football it’s the same, or you have a spontaneous generation like there was at Barcelona that appeared with Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, (Lionel) Messi, (Gerard) Pique, (Cesc) Fabregas, (Carles) Puyol. Or like the ’92 generation at Manchester United.
“Of course that is not about money, that is a spontaneous generation that makes your team unbelievable.”
Ilkay Gundogan has paid tribute to manager Pep Guardiola, revealing his happiness at being able to repay the faith shown in him by the Catalan after he returned from a devastating injury by helping Manchester City claim the Premier League title.
City were named champions of England for the third time in seven seasons in unexpected circumstances on Sunday when second-placed city rivals United went down to an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to bottom side West Bromwich Albion.
German international Gundogan has been an intrinsic part of City’s dominant title triumph, fitting seamlessly back into the side this season after returning from a right knee cruciate ligament injury that overshadowed his summer 2016 arrival at the Etihad Stadium.
The 27-year-old spent nine months on the sidelines after suffering the injury in December 2016 but has recovered this season to play 25 league games and score four goals in City’s merciless charge to the title.
“After my comeback he gradually gave me more and more time on the pitch, getting me closer and closer to my best possible performance,” said the 25-times capped Germany midfielder.
“He has put much trust in me and I am happy I was able to pay some of it back during this season. I think he is one of the best coaches in the world and I’m really grateful to be able to work with him.”
Guardiola is renowned for his intensity and Gundogan provided an insight into that mentality, adding: “He was a great player himself, he has been in our shoes. He always asks for 100 per cent, in every training session, every match.”
Guardiola’s first English title will be added to an impressive collection trophies during his 11-year managerial career which has seen him collect domestic titles in three countries.
He won three league titles in Spain with Barca, as well as the Copa del Rey and Champions League twice apiece. In Germany he lifted three Bundesliga crowns and two DFB Pokals, adding the Premier League trophy to the EFL Cup this year.
And even though City’s league triumph is a first English one for both Guardiola and Gundogan, the German says neither he nor his manager will be content with stopping at one.
“Although some of our players have won it before, it’s our first title as a group of players under the new manager,” he said.
“That step is always a difficult one but we have worked hard all season and we are delighted to achieve it. We have developed together and there is a lot of potential. What we all have to do now is to work hard and believe in our ability to keep succeeding.
“But the competition in the Premier League is much harder than in Germany. We have five or six teams who are all able to win the league and that makes it incredibly difficult. But we are ambitious and we aim to win every game.
“It’s really exciting to train among such good players. To compete with them means to push myself to new limits in every session. I think it is a great benefit for all of us. And with the long season and all the different competitions everyone has played their part.
“If we continue with this mentality then there’s no reason we can’t continue in this way. We [he and Pep] share our idea of the game.”
City’s stars celebrated their unexpected early coronation in a myriad of ways on Sunday, with the majority of the squad heading to the Railway pub in Hale, where they celebrated long into the night with fans and captain Vincent Kompany gave a rousing victory speech.
Even though they were given three days off from football by the boss, however, Gundogan didn’t stray too far away from his day job, taking in the Ruhr derby in his native Germany between former club Borussia Dortmund and Schalke.
“I didn’t get to watch the United game. We’d been given a few days off by the manager and so I travelled over to Germany to watch the Schalke v Dortmund game,” said Gundogan.
“I’d made my plans as soon as I realised that it wouldn’t interfere with our own matches, but it’s fair to say I didn’t expect the hear the news that United had lost.
We interrupt your Sunday evening to bring you... https://t.co/41FtlNdYTK— Manchester City (@ManCity) 15 April 2018
“I was still in the stadium with my cousin and uncle enjoying dinner after the game when news came through. Schalke v Dortmund is a pretty big deal in Germany and the most important derby in the Bundesliga so it was great to be there.”
Gundogan’s own celebrations later that evening were perhaps a little calmer than those of his teammates back in Manchester, but he revealed the celebratory mood was encapsulated in the players’ WhatsApp group.
“I spent a really nice evening with my family and friends at home,” added Gundogan.
“There were no big parties for me though. Everyone was getting in touch to congratulate each other in our team WhatsApp group. None of us really expect it to happen last night but it was great that it did and I know the whole team have been celebrating.
“It was a great moment for me – my first Premier League title. I’m obviously very happy. We have worked so hard for this and to win the title means so much to all of us having spent the season performing well.”