Thursday 29 September 2016

Guardiola has been proven right when getting rid of better players than Hart

Daniel Taylor

Published 21/08/2016 | 02:30

Manchester City's Joe Hart and Willy Caballero (right) warm up before the Premier League match at The Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent Photo: PA
Manchester City's Joe Hart and Willy Caballero (right) warm up before the Premier League match at The Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent Photo: PA

At this stage, it is fairly obvious what happens next. Claudio Bravo is on his way from Barcelona. Joe Hart has played his last game in Manchester City's colours and the speed at which everything has happened, with hardly a backwards glance from Pep Guardiola, means we will presumably hear more in the coming days about how cold and hard-faced this sport can be sometimes.

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Unfortunately for Hart, that is just the nature of the business and, while it is easy to understand an element of the sympathy, perhaps it might be an idea for some of the more outraged to go back to Guardiola's time at Barcelona and consider the results of a coach who knows precisely what he wants and refuses to bend for anyone.

Barcelona also had players who saw themselves as untouchable when Guardiola took control in 2008, including former Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o. "These three are not in my mind for the future," Guardiola said on his first day in charge. "In fact, we will be going onwards without them. It's time for a restart."

As it turned out, Eto'o was unable to find a new club and the decision was reversed. Eto'o returned to the team, was second top scorer in La Liga and scored in the Champions League final. That summer, Guardiola turfed him out. "I understand that people want to know why this is happening because he's a marvellous footballer," the coach explained. "On and off the pitch, he's been fine all year, but it's a question of feeling."

By all accounts, the same applies to Hart. He, too, has become a question of feeling and if that feels unsatisfactory to his sympathisers then it is probably worth keeping in mind that Guardiola's instincts helped create the most devastating and beautifully assembled club side in history at Barca, accumulating 14 out of a possible 19 trophies in four years. What he is not trying to win is a popularity contest and maybe a few misconceptions about City's new manager have been shattered in the process. "He's not an angel," as Graham Hunter writes in Barca, the Making of the Greatest Team in the World. "He can be intense, quixotic and hard to please ."

Hart is not used to this kind of rejection but he has been making a lot of errors. Equally, there have been periods of brilliance, too, and plenty of people have yet to be convinced that Willy Caballero, is not a greater risk to City's team. Another memory comes from City's visit to Barcelona in March last year and a 1-0 defeat in the Champions League when Hart prevented a rout, epitomised by a wonderful moment at the final whistle when Luis Suárez made a beeline for the goalkeeper. Suárez embraced his opponent, looked him in the eye and told him he had never seen a performance like it. It was sheer wonder on the striker's face.

Guardiola was there that night - you might remember him rocking with laughter in the stands after Lionel Messi's nutmeg on James Milner - and the shame, perhaps, is that a man with his coaching reputation is not willing apparently to work with Hart on what he perceives as the goalkeeper's weaknesses.

If he thinks Hart's distribution dramatically needs to improve, could that have not been fine-tuned on the practice ground? If Hart needs to stop going long with his kicks, release the ball more quickly and understand the importance of building from the back, are these not tweaks that would have been relatively straightforward to introduce?

Or maybe, just like with Eto'o, the manager is relying on his "feeling" and, if so, let's not forget he hasn't done too badly so far trusting his instincts. Guardiola was 37 when he accepted the job at Barcelona, under the spotlight of the world's media, and promptly announced the end for Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto'o.

Like all great managers, he can be hard, unflinching and, yes, a bit of a bastard at times. Don't think for one second he will be concerned that Hart has the respect of the dressing-room. Don't imagine him being troubled by the risk involved, or the criticism it has attracted. Don't presume Guardiola goes home at night worrying that Joey Barton might want to lecture him on standards of professional etiquette.

Something similar is happening at Manchester United bearing in mind José Mourinho's decision to cut Bastian Schweinsteiger free and the froth of indignation it has caused in Germany. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and various others at Bayern Munich have taken turns to express their outrage - though not to the point, it seems, when they are willing to buy the player back.

Alternatively, Mourinho has worked out that Schweinsteiger's legs can no longer keep up with his brain.

The midfielder's performances symbolised last season's dreariness at Old Trafford and you might recall some killer detail after Louis van Gaal's sacking about how little time Schweinsteiger apparently spent in Manchester.

Schweinsteiger was injured in January and had a tendency to return to Germany, flying in for United's matches then straight back out again. It went down badly in the dressing-room, to say the least. "Taking the piss," was one description.

Hart is a far more established figure in his own dressing room but, in a strange way, that might work in Guardiola's favour in a profession where he always has to be seen very much as the boss.

"It's disgusting," Barton said. But it is nothing of the sort. Ruthless? Yes. Polarising? Undoubtedly. But there is nothing disgusting about wanting better for your team and if anyone in football is entitled to back their judgment it is a man with Guardiola's record of achievement.

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