It is often said that you need to be just a little bit ‘mad’ to be a goalkeeper. This week’s ‘news’ rather confirms that. Paul Robinson was still playing football until this week (who knew?); Sergio Romero is more than happy to sit on Manchester United’s bench for another four years, while playing a bit for Argentina whenever they lose to Chile; Simon Mignolet is looking forward to competition for places at Liverpool next season – presumably meaning the defenders (any defenders) in front of him – and Joe Hart passed a medical to go out on loan to West Ham United.
At the cutting edge of Gillette, Joe made more appearances on Sky’s Soccer Saturday than Paul Walsh last season yet Paul still seemed to favour the has-been, straggly look of a footballer who didn’t quite make it. Always clean-shaven Joe did make it and then seemed to lose it again quite quickly.
We all like to remember Joe as ‘England’s Number One,’ don’t we? This giant of a man for whom sticks and stones could be repelled as easily as a Nolito or a Negredo but where, increasingly, only words seemed to stick. We all (OK, maybe not at Old Trafford) like to remember Joe’s seemingly one-man missions against Barcelona at the Nou Camp or Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad, don’t we?
So, Joe, where did it all go wrong? Or is that a rhetorical question in the mould of George Best (see how I do like to even things up in Manchester!) when examining a bed covered with banknotes and champagne and partly covering a Miss World?
It is also often said that goalkeepers mature with age and reach their peak in their early ‘thirties. Joe seems to have been spending time on the training ground, practising a ‘reverse-Buffon’ which is a bit like doing a Cruyff turn in a portaloo.
Joe spent a lot of non-shaving time anticipating long-range shots (especially from set-pieces) from just a little too far away from his left-hand post to see whether he could still make those low saves. This then led him to perfecting the technique – favouring his left-side but also now working on his right – such that he has now found exactly where to stand and be assured of missing the ball.
Pep Guardiola wanted his goalkeepers to play out from the back but Joe was so engrossed in his own contribution to sports science that he didn’t listen properly and so went off to learn Italian for a year. What Joe did, in fact, learn at Torino was that his new technique crossed boundaries (as well as goal-lines across Europe): all he had to do was choose the correct starting position and consistent failure was assured. Testing his theory on international stages against the combined football might of Wales, Iceland and Scotland proved that he was well and truly on to a loser.
At the end of a triumphant season in which they finished ninth in Serie A, Torino claimed that they couldn’t afford Joe but this might have been Italian short-hand (no, not another insult about Juventus) for ‘we can’t afford his mistakes.’ For his part, Joe was overwhelmed by crosses as well as winning the coveted ‘worst save to shot ratio’ trophy, originally introduced by Marlon Brando.
Slaven Bilic was hugely impressed by what he saw. He knew that he couldn’t go on blaming the National Stadium, Dimitri Payet or Karren Brady’s one-woman mission to rule the world for West Ham’s continuing failure. He also knew that there would be a media storm when the Daves announced that Andy Carroll was to be sponsored by the NHS as part of medical research entitled ‘raising the bar: heading for success while standing up straight.’
Having read about Joe’s own research in Neuter magazine, Bilic knew that Joe could be blamed for just about everything (apart from beards) and so was keen to take him on-loan for a bit. He even cajoled Mark Noble into saying publicly that Joe deserved more ‘respect’ by threatening to take away the club captaincy, oh, and his precious SoccerStarz playset.
So, if Joe manages to catch the plane he could shortly be off to Austria to meet up with Julie Andrews and the rest of the West Ham United squad for pre-drinks. Though certain to continue with his research, what is less clear is whether Joe will be confident enough in his findings to admit to his failings: ‘Doh! Blame Me.’