Sunday, 5 September 2010

Who deserves the most credit for the making of Joe Hart?

Two days ago, 23-year-old Joe Hart walked out at Wembley for his first competitive game in an England shirt. His performance was just the normal Joe Hart performance - if you’ve ever seen him play - solid, confident, and slightly cocky, but in a good way.

Hart has received many plaudits over the last few weeks, especially after his displays against Spurs and Liverpool and now his rock solid performance against Bulgaria. But who deserves the most credit for how far Joe Hart has come, in a very short space of time?

In a sense, Joe Hart would have been spotted by a professional team wherever he lived. It just so happened to be Shrewsbury, for whom he made his competitive debut in 2004 at just 17 years of age, after being a non-playing substitute just a year earlier. Shrewsbury deserve credit for helping make Joe Hart because they were, quite simply, the team that found him. They were the team that started to mould him into the player he is today, and their credit has come in the form of £500,000 which they received upon Hart making his first competitive start for England on Friday night; a nice little ‘thank you’ gift, if you will.

Manchester City also deserve a lot of praise for the rise of Joe Hart. In 2006 they ‘found’ him at Shrewsbury and signed him for an initial fee of £600,000. After making his Man City debut in 2006, Hart then went on a couple of emergency loans to Tranmere Rovers and Blackpool respectively, which helped him to gain a little more experience before playing regularly in the Premier League.

He then cemented the number one spot at City, and that was that. Or so it seemed. He was playing brilliantly; he was a big prospect for not only Manchester City, but for England as well. He made his England debut in the second half against Trinidad and Tobago in June of 2008, which sparked the start of his England senior career.

Hart didn’t put a foot wrong at City, so it was a surprise to many that in January 2009 City signed Republic of Ireland international Shay Given from Newcastle, who came straight in and took the number one jersey from Hart; who one moment found himself on top of the world, and the next he found himself sitting on the bench.

This brings me onto the next team who deserve to be credited: Birmingham City. It was a deal which worked for all parties; Blues needed a keeper, Hart needed a team, and City needed to send Joe out for some much needed experience. So in Summer 2009 Hart made a loan switch to Birmingham; starting off a year to remember for the young goalkeeper.

But just before he made the loan move to Blues, he played in the Euro Under 21 tournament, which brings me to someone else we should give credit to for the making of Joe Hart: Stuart Pearce. The Under 21 Coach first called Joe up to the squad in 2007, and the trust he has put in Joe Hart over the years is phenomenal. This summer tournament also helped him; especially after saving a couple of penalties and then taking one himself in a shootout to get to the final! Pearce has stood by Hart for years now, and he deserves credit for helping Hart take the next step in the football ladder.

Now back to Blues… in his first few games he looked a little shaky. With crosses and with his kicks, mainly. But that was improved quite quickly, all thanks to one man who doesn’t get the praise and credit he deserves. That man is Birmingham goalkeeper coach Dave Watson.

Being young himself after having to retire through injury, Watson immediately bonded with Hart, and so it was easy for them to work together and build on the skills that Hart already had. The rest, as they say, is history: Hart had a phenomenal season for Blues, the turning point probably being Liverpool Away in November 2009; McLeish had a selection dilemma after Maik Taylor had played superbly in a game against Man City, which Hart was ineligible for. McLeish stuck to his guns though and picked Hart who played an absolutely brilliant game, making save after save, keeping his team in the game.

Throughout the season, Hart got better and better. His confidence went through the roof, as did his popularity. The loveable Shrewsbury-born lad was earning plaudits here there and everywhere, and there were calls for him to be England’s number one. He won player of the season at Birmingham, was nominated for PFA young player of the year, and made it into the PFA team of the year.

This season at Blues had completed him. Joe hart was now the finished article; after the moulding from Shrewsbury, the step up at City, the coaching he received from every club he was at especially from Dave Watson and Stuart Pearce, the call ups to the England team - both Under 21 and Senior - and finally the fine tuning and polishing off at Birmingham. This was it. Joe Hart was now ready. He had come through the stages, the phases, and he is the perfect example of how English talent can break through and get to the top.

Just 17 months after being overtaken and put on the bench by Shay Given, Joe Hart has worked his hardest to do what Given did to him: and he is now the number one at Manchester City, with Shay looking on from the bench. After everyone calling for him to be England’s number one also, he now seems to have cemented his place as just that, much to the delight of Shrewsbury, Manchester City and Birmingham City: the teams that made him.

But who deserves the most credit for Hart? Of corse, the teams did so well in helping him along the way, but I believe it’s mostly down to someone I haven’t given credit to yet, and that’s the man himself.

Being the modest man he is, he wouldn’t admit that to you, but without his aura of complete confidence or his desire to make it to the top, Joe Hart would not be the player he is today. If he wasn’t so determined to make it, or so completely in love and infatuated with the beautiful game that he will do anything to play it, then he wouldn’t be as good as he is now. That man is an absolutely brilliant idol for any young child to look up to. He is the perfect example of how hard work and determination can most definitely pay off.

In hindsight, he owes a lot to the teams, coaches and managers who helped to form what a great goalkeeper he is now, but in all honesty, Joe Hart deserves the most credit for what he has become; and that is a number one goalkeeper for both club and country. He has become what he always wanted to become, and most importantly, he’s done it all with a smile on his face. There is nothing more pleasing that seeing a man who loves football so much, do so well in football.

Here’s to a great future for Joe Hart. And it’s all down to him.

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