Archive | December, 2016

Drifting rock

2 Dec

It’s always struck me as odd that English banknotes are actually worthless. They’re not backed by anything; it’s only people’s belief they’re worth something that gives them any value. The stuff’s run on confidence and confidence alone.

This being so, we ought give our currency its best shot and put Liam Gallagher on the notes. If confidence, earned or otherwise, is the name of the game, let’s get a big-hitter in. The Queen’s never struck me as a particularly optimistic girl. No brash self-assuredness in her voice. Bit of a shit dresser, too, if we’re being honest. Liam, on the other hand, if he tells you something’s worth twenty quid, then it’s worth twenty quid.


Better yet, let’s get Joe Hart on the notes. Joe’s super confident. And well he might be. You don’t want a bed-wetter between the sticks, do you? It’s a battle of the mind for goalkeepers, with disastrous consequences if they lose. Outfield players have the luxury of only competing against ten others. Not so, for goalkeepers. They have to contend with players, the fans, the press. Even a few of the cheekier ballboys probably like to enquire if the visiting custodian is feeling a touch nervous.

And as much as Hart is one of the best one-on-one shot-stoppers in the business, it’s Joe Hart’s unflinching belief in Joe Hart that sets him apart. Hart would stare down a Haka as soon as look at one. His giant head wouldn’t flinch for a moment, set on that ramrod-straight, drill sergeant neck of his.


Most of us are timid self-questioning souls, who can barely get out of bed in the morning without wondering if we’re in the right job, the right relationship, or if we ring our parents enough. Hart doesn’t bother with any of that nonsense. England’s Number One knows damn well he hasn’t left the gas on. And he isn’t going to waste his days mentally tethered to Best Before dates or whether he needs to bring a coat out.


Naturally, this drives his critics wild. Journalists, opposing fans, they love to hone in on a goalkeeper low on confidence. Put ’em in the spotlight and watch them wither. It’s a long road back for a keeper once a crisis of confidence forms.

Joe never lets these idiots in. He’s a walled city. And in that way, he always wins. Fingers taped and already barking instructions in the tunnel, we witness the unwilting aura of a man who can’t be gotten at. An unyielding structure who stands his full height, whether in the goalmouth or the media access area. Joe Hart is six feet five; he’s fairly confident of that.


This is why Hart is vital to Manchester City. And it’s what Pep Guardiola seems to completely miss about him. Hart is the only player utterly convinced that City can win the Champions League. That they should win the Champions League. The lad who used to keep goal for Shrewsbury Town is the only one who can picture himself shaking hands with UEFA dignitaries, as he lifts the European Cup high above his flake-free head. The man whose transfer fee was fifty times less than Aguero’s, who rose from League 2. Hart knows he’s only got one life and he’s damned if he’s going to throw it away on the group stages.


More, then, is the tragedy of the past few months. Hart has been banished to Turin; loaned out in the prime of his career. In his place, an ageing clown, whose party trick is to caress the ball into the path of oncoming strikers. Joe’s distribution was always an area for improvement. But only in the sense that once every game or so he would lamp the ball unpressured straight into the stands. Restarting with an opposition throw-in was much preferred to restarting from the centre circle, as has become a familiar sight with Claudio Bravo this season.

Prospects for a return are slim. Philosophers make stubborn leaders, and Guardiola is by no means an 80:20 operator; he’s pure doctrine. Hart finds himself marginalised by a gaffer with deep seated beliefs, who is also trying to establish his authority in a new setting; a dangerous combination. And so, without being given so much as a single league outing between the sticks, Hart has been deemed utterly dispensable.


Anyone involved in football has found themselves lamenting a defeat that came from a lack of belief. A nagging sense that if the boys had just believed they would do the business, then they probably would have done. Louis van Gaal is fond of saying that the mental approach of players is football’s last great unexplored frontier. Hard, then, to quantify the hidden loss of casting Joe Hart to one side; a man with enough self-belief for the whole back five and probably a few holding midfielders to boot.

We’re still in the first flushes of the Guardiola regime, but this has been by far his biggest call to date. He will be judged not only on whether he was right, but as much by his willingness to admit the error if he’s proven to be wrong. Given the haste with which he cut Hart loose in the first place, it would be a bold move for Guardiola to bring him home again. The decision would certainly require a healthy dose of self-confidence. Thankfully, Pep doesn’t have far to look if he needs inspiration on that front.

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“Stones … to Bravo … back to Stones”