What if we turned time back to 24th April 2010: Manchester City versus Arsenal. We’re in the second half on the game, and Diaby gets the ball. He lets rip a really low and hard shot, Shay Given has little time to react… what happens next? In a perfect (Manchester City) world Given would’ve dived and saved the shot; picked himself up dusted himself down and received a pat on the back from his team mates. In another perfect, but this time Arsenal, world; he would’ve dived but failed to save the shot; 1-0 Arsenal.
But what really happened was a bit of both: Given dived to his left, and tipped the ball just round the post… but at the same time dislocating his shoulder from the impact of the fierce Diaby shot. Given out for the rest of the season, Birmingham City also feeling the repercussions of the injury as City tried to prise Joe Hart back to their club, but ultimately failing.
Joe Hart had expressed his desire to return to Birmingham City the following season numerous times, and Blues had pretty much regained Hart’s services for another season… that was until Given’s untimely injury. City wanted Hart back for the 2010/11 season, and that was pretty much that. He was their player, after all.
Now, clubs don’t get attached to players too often. I mean really attached, and I mean every single fan. I’m talking about every single fan, including all the male supporters, actually loving a player to pieces. Like I said, this doesn’t happen all too often, especially if they’re only on a season long loan; but last season the fans of Birmingham City fell in love with Joe Hart.
To cut a season-long story short; he was brilliant. He was everything you could ask for in a player; his commitment, his performances, and his relationship with us fans was amazing. None of us wanted to say goodbye and none of us wanted to let him go - people were even joking about kidnapping him and tying him to goalposts… and I think some were even serious.
But we had to move on and find a different goalkeeper, and that's when we got Ben Foster. Now, Foster was actually more highly rated at the start of last season than Hart, but he fell down the pecking order at Manchester United, which meant he also fell out of the England team. So Blues successfully captured another great goalkeeper in Ben, and that's exactly what he is: great. I don’t doubt anything of him; he’s looked really good so far, and under the guidance of Dave Watson I know he will be a great player for us. But just weeks after signing him, Shay Given made a miraculous recovery, and is now battling it out with Hart for the number one spot at City. I for one couldn't believe it: one moment Joe Hart was looking to be Manchester City's number one, the next moment he faced competition from the man who'd knocked him out of the team the first time round.
Hart has now said he wouldn’t say no to a loan move for the season, and today Sunderland have announced that they have approached Man City for Hart’s services, whilst their normal number one Craig Gordon is out injured for at least 6 weeks into the season with a broken arm.
The word ‘gutted’ has been used a lot today, and if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard or read today; “Ben Foster is great, but Joe Hart…” then I’d be quite rich. Don’t get me wrong. I think Ben Foster will be brilliant for us and I was so glad we got him… but having Joe Hart back again would’ve been brilliant.
In my opinion, Hart won’t go on loan just yet. Not until after the start of the season anyway. Mancini has expressed in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t yet know his number one, and has been closely looking at both Given and Hart to try and determine this factor. He has also said that he doesn’t like changing things, so whoever starts the season in goal will probably go on to play for the rest of the season there.
In another ‘what if’ scenario, if his number one turns out to be Given, then Hart will probably go out on loan, or try to anyway. I believe it won’t be before the start of the season though, if this in fact the case, simply because Mancini doesn’t want to.
Man City also wouldn’t want to risk anything; say Shay Given dived onto his shoulder and injured it again in training - if they had already let Joe Hart go on loan, they’d have a job trying to get him back, as it’s something he couldn’t do last season. It’s practicality that we’ve got the think about, and Mancini isn’t the type of man not to think ahead; upon getting the request for Hart from Sunderland, I can guarantee he would’ve been thinking all these things.
So like I said at the start: what if? What if Shay Given hadn’t got injured? Well, we’d have Joe Hart for another season. That’s pretty much it. It would’ve been a lot simpler and we would have a bit more money to spend because we wouldn’t have had to spend money on another keeper, because we already had one secured. But, we’ve got Ben Foster now, an equally brilliant keeper, and that’s fine, because he is a great goalkeeper, he wouldn’t of been at Man United if he wasn’t. But the niggling feeling I felt today when I read that Sunderland want Hart on loan really did get to me! I think the fact that Joe had such a brilliant relationship with the Blues fans, we wouldn’t be as gutted if he went out on loan as we will be if he does. Fact is, he’s a player we loved, and still will love, for quite a few years to come.
Whatever happens with Hart now is nothing to do with Birmingham City, but in hindsight, I know we’ll all be keeping an eye on him and his career from now on.