The big story of the football weekend was undoubtedly the debut of Pep Guardiola as a Premier League manager and the former Barcelona coach did not disappoint with a number of tactical decisions aimed at taking Manchester City in a new direction.
Foremost among those decisions was the choice to leave out long-serving goalkeeper Joe Hart in favour of Argentine Willy Caballero—supposedly due to the Argentine’s better distribution with his feet.
But what does it mean for the England No. 1?
Today’s #360debate asks: Does Joe Hart have a future at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola?
Before arriving at the Etihad Stadium the numbers 52.6, 47.6, 47.3, 58.8 and 50.9 would surely have made Pep Guardiola wince.
They are Joe Hart’s pass completion percentages for the past five Premier League seasons and while they are slightly mitigated by the fact he’s a goalkeeper – meaning he attempts more high-risk and speculative long passes – they still don’t make for particularly pleasant reading.
However, while that seeks to reinforce the argument that Hart is simply not appropriate to be a Guardiola-style goalkeeper is totally with merit, it’s approaching the situation from only one side. Namely that of the coach and not Hart himself who’s in a position to change Guardiola’s opinion just like any other.
Because while he is 29, that is far from past-it for a ‘keeper and instead of viewing the situation as a negative that he’s not the No. 1 for Guardiola, why can’t Hart now improve the one major attribute that is missing in his game?
If anything, it is a test of Hart’s ambitions. After a questionable Euro 2016, the appointment of Sam Allardyce as new England manager and the emergence of Jack Butland, Hart’s place as national team No. 1 is firmly under threat. That will only be intensified if he continues to sit out games at City.
It’s happened before, as Manuel Pellegrini dropped him in 2014, only for Hart to work his way back and this is just another challenge, albeit a more technical one.
Does Hart stay and fight for his place, endangering his England prospects? Or try and force a transfer away, helping safeguard his international career.
Guardiola has shown himself to be a coach who improves and alters footballers beyond their comfort zones: Lionel Messi, Thomas Muller, David Alaba, Javier Mascherano, Philipp Lahm, plus a number of others, learnt new aspects of the way to play under the Catalan, all at different stages of their careers as well.
So why can’t Hart try and do the same? His Manchester City career may well depend on it.
Despite his claims that Joe Hart still features in his plans at Manchester City, it is increasingly clear that Pep Guardiola does not regard the goalkeeper as his first-choice stopper.
Guardiola knew that the eyes of the football world were firmly fixed upon his first competitive team selection in England, and that every tactical or personnel decision he made would be heavily scrutinised.
His benching of Hart, therefore, was a heavily symbolic move rather than an isolated decision for one game, and it’s hard to see how Hart can recover.
Guardiola’s apparent distrust of Hart isn’t even particularly surprising when you consider the playing style implemented by the Catalan, which places enormous reliance upon carefully retaining possession and building out from the back.
Hart, for all his qualities, has never been a very good distributor of the ball and this deficiency makes him plainly unsuited for a team managed by Guardiola.
Fortunately, a readymade solution is available to City at Barcelona – and it’s not, despite the rumours, Marc Andre ter Stegen.
Instead, the perfect candidate for City’s goalkeeping duties is Claudio Bravo, who has been impeccable for Barca ever since he replaced Victor Valdes.
Bravo is experienced, mentally mature, deals well with crosses, possesses good shot-stopping skills, commands his defence with authority and – crucially – is a wonderful distributor of the ball.
The only negative is his age, 33, but for a goalkeeper that isn’t excessive and he should be able to maintain his high standards for another three or four years.
Indeed, his age will work in City’s favour in one respect, because he will be cheaper than a younger player.
Selling Bravo to City would even be a welcome development for Barca, because it would allow Luis Enrique to swerve his goalkeeping controversy and install ter Stegen as undisputed starter without upsetting anyone. So the move would suit Bravo, ter Stegen, City and Barca perfectly.
In fact, there would only be one loser in the deal: Joe Hart.
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