If history is truly written by the winners, no party involved with the Joe Hart saga will be able to place anything on record. There are only losers as the situation plays out, drawing to an uncomfortable conclusion for the main protagonists.
The questions and doubt continue to reign. Is Pep Guardiola justified or making a mistake? Hearts break watching Hart face an uncertain future, Claudio Bravo arrives facing a lukewarm reception, and fans cry to the club’s better nature at the treatment of a true legend. Amidst the confusion, some answers are already obvious.
The first, and clearest, is that months before Pep pitched up in Manchester, Joe’s cards had been marked. A poor showing in the Euros acted as a catalyst to enact the bold step of removing England’s number one from the club. Most fans never expected to see Willy Caballero play for City again, all along Pep was plotting this exact fate for Hart.
Wednesday’s Champions League tie was the managers farewell gift, not a glimmer of hope that if Hart stayed he could fight for his place. This act made the manager contradict his former statement on Hart about being prepared to work with the ‘keeper to improve his game, if he stayed.
However, Guardiola shouldn’t be made into the bad guy here. He made a judgement call. All managers have to; the best ones aren’t scared to make the big ones. If he has politicked a little, it was to keep an air of professionalism when facing the sensationalist tabloid press.
If City fans harbour some dislike, it’s because of what Joe Hart represents rather than a judgement on his ability. He belongs to an elite group (Zabaleta, Kompany and Agüero) that appear to love the club. They get City. Pulling on the shirt for players like Hart has been about more than collecting a pay cheque or doing a job. It’s been a love affair.
And that love is reciprocated in the stands, as proven on Wednesday. In singing for Joe, the fans always brought to attention one uncomfortable truth. Maybe he wasn’t good enough? The reworking of the Billy Ray Cyrus song, “Achy Breaky Heart”, to “Don’t Sell Joe Hart” is now a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its existence a case for Pep’s defence when he’s accused of making a kneejerk reaction.
If Hart was beyond reproach as a top class ‘keeper, why did the fans feel the need to create this song for the benefit of a former manager? The doubts about Hart’s pedigree have been around for some time. He’s weathered storms in the past but a fresh manager had zero attachment to any member of the squad. Pep agreed with the doubters and acted immediately.
Bravo’s arrival is the nail in Joe’s coffin that had been halfway in for some time. City may well have upgraded – at a bargain price – and now make the step forward in Europe. But the Chilean can’t afford a less than stellar start to his City career.
Fans know he isn’t here for City. He’d play for Leicester City if Pep was manager at the King Power. That’s fine, but it says more about the future of the club and its detachment from core players, its fundamentals and values.
Aside from an attitude problem, an existing player at a top club, that has contributed heavily to championships and aided the growth of the whole organisation, should be given a fair chance.
Any areas of Hart’s ability that haven’t improved at an acceptable rate are down to coaching rather than his lack of potential or professionalism. Gaps in his game – like playing sweeper-keeper – can be blamed on the management, or lack of, from previous regimes. Do you really think Manuel Pellegrini ever tried to enhance Joe’s overall game? He didn’t even send his outfield players out with clear instruction.
Pep is in the unique position of being almost untouchable. He could finish outside of the top six and the hierarchy would continue to believe in his project. With such a period of grace he can afford to take six months to develop the players already in Manchester. Surely the club expect a manager on a contract that exceeds £12m-a-year to hone existing talent.
Not everyone that stood up for Joe Hart Wednesday night has always been an advocate of his ability. This doesn’t make them hypocrites. He has made mistakes and his distribution has been a poor aspect of his game that many have criticised over the years.
But he holds the record for number of Premier League golden gloves and any sense that Hart hasn’t improved over the years is ill-founded. It’s heart-breaking that the world will never find out what a bit of Pep polish could have done for a legendary City goalkeeper.
Instead of deciding to work things through, Guardiola has called time on matters.
It’s now like a relationship that doesn’t feel over but the other party declares is unsalvageable. The only thing the rejected person can see is how much there is left to fight for, how much can be saved. They picture a future with many more moments, rivalling the best from the past before going on to exceed those highs. Begging and frustration vie with confusion, clouding logic and analytical thinking.
The party cutting the strings is completely emotionally detached, to the point they lose sight of pure logic which leads to reinforced stubbornness.
You have to move on because there is no alternative but it leaves a void that never finds closure.
That painful gap in City’s heart will be Hart shaped. The fans and player parted ways emotionally, both powerless to stop the wheels that had been put in motion by others, but it wasn’t a comfortable farewell. It was awkward and the demands for reconciliation fruitless.
No future success will ever remove the memory of losing a legend before his time.