Sunday 23 October 2016

Debut misery for 'John Hart' as his error costs Torino

Jonathan Liew

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Joe Hart
Joe Hart

Perhaps it was the breeze. It was blowing stiffly from the east, over the exposed Curva Sud, carrying the corner just a little further than Joe Hart was expecting.

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Not the sort of breeze you often see at the City of Manchester stadium. Still, the ball was there, and so he was going to claim it.

A few seconds later, as Hart was picking the ball out of his net, he might have been permitted a short moment of wonderment at how it had all come to this.

From a career-defining performance against Real Madrid in the Champions League to the soggy end of Serie A in the space of five short months.

From the adoring bosom of east Manchester and its familiar songs to the stark terraces of northern Italy and a crowd of under 15,000, most of them Atalanta fans screeching and jeering his every touch. It was as if he had fallen asleep and woken in the middle of a strange and surreal nightmare.

The Grand Tour, they used to call it. Centuries before Hart became the first English goalkeeper to feature in Serie A, Britain used to send its young men of quality out to Italy by the carriage-load.

In these benighted post-Brexit days, of course, we are a lot more sniffy about this sort of thing.

Hart had made no secret of the fact that his deadline-day loan to Torino was a move of last resort, having been ostracised at his beloved Manchester City.

Torino, for their part, admitted that they only sought out Hart's services after missing out on their first-choice goalkeeper, Emiliano Viviano of Sampdoria.

In the circumstances, it was unfortunate and yet weirdly fitting that England's No 1 should be listed as 'John Hart' on the teamsheet .

Yet perhaps the pressure was off a little. Even if it would have been little consolation watching Bravo, his successor in the City goal, flailing and flapping his way through the Manchester derby on Saturday, surely Hart's own debut would not be as torrid.

It was in this frame of mind, then, that England's John Hart took to the pitch. And though it was a quiet first 50 minutes for him, with Hart these things are all relative.

So there was a lot of pointing. There was a lot of arm-spreading. There was also a lot of shouting, which was curious given that hardly any of the Torino squad speak English; perhaps he was trying out his 50-word vocabulary.

Nine minutes into the second half, Torino's Iago Falque scored. So far, so good. But seconds later came the corner from the left.

Hart advanced unimpeded and flapped at the ball. But he failed to get a clean contact, and it dropped at the feet of Andrea Masiello, who slashed it into an empty net.

As he lay helpless on the turf, Hart waved both arms at the referee, appealing for something. A foul? Offside? The last six months of his life back? Who can say?

"I am not angry with Hart," his coach Sinisa Mihajlovic insisted. "It was a personal mistake."

The goalmouth can be a lonely place for the misplaced loanee. The Barcelona-Bayern-inspired vogue for fleet-footed goalkeepers has piled the pressure on the more traditional and orthodox netminders to follow suit.

Yet the Italian school of goalkeeping, as epitomised by the likes of Gigi Buffon, Dino Zoff and Walter Zenga, has often bucked this trend.

In Italy, the goalkeeper is not merely an auxiliary sweeper or continuity man, but a figurehead, a focal point. To a far greater extent, they are expected to stay on their line and prioritise the hands over the feet. In the long term, Hart and Serie A may well be the perfect match.

"I am very happy and curious to see Hart in Serie A," said Franco Tancredi, the former Torino goalkeeper who worked with him as part of Fabio Capello's England set-up.

"For me, he is the goalkeeper who is the most Italian out of all the English, the only one from the Premier League who could have made this jump."

Eight minutes from time, Hart's misery was complete. Atalanta won a penalty and Franck Kessie sent him the wrong way to seal a 2-1 win.

Yet it is possible for Hart to see this setback as the making of him. Perhaps he will come back a better, more rounded player. Or perhaps, like Byron, he will like it so much he will never return at all.

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