The words “Joe Hart” and “world’s best goalkeeper” have been matched together by many people over the last few days in honour of the Manchester City keeper’s display against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. A bit reactionary if you ask me but since the goalkeeping sage that is Wayne Rooney saw fit to back this up with his own opinion, placing Hart at the top of the shot-stopping pops, there's no diputing it, is there?. Well, actually there is. There's something missing from those superlative-laden eulogies: it's the word “not”. Simply put, Joe Hart is NOT the best keeper in the world.
After all, if we're being hyper-critical about it, and obviously I am, Manchester city didn't actually win the game and Hart would probably admit himself that he'd saved shots earlier in the game which were more difficult than the one he conceded. Harsh, perhaps, but margins of success and failure at that level are minuscule.
He is, however, a very good goalkeeper who in time has the potential to become the world’s number one, number one. In ability and mental attitude he is strong in every department. Attempt to look for his weaknesses and you’ll end up using a magnifying glass to identify the cracks but possessing talent isn’t the full qualifying criteria for being the best there is. What he is missing is the years of experience, medals and most importantly, the influence over his teammates that the likes of Buffon and Casillas have to orchestrate the fortunes of his team.
It’s not my meaning to detract from what was a brilliant performance, because that’s exactly what it was, but all the talk of world’s best can easily be undermined by his lack of experience and silverware at the very top of the game. The world’s best have dragged their team over the finishing line and not just contributed to it. This is the most persuasive arguments against Messi being the best player there’s every been because it includes the fact he has never single-handedl won the World Cup as Maradona did in ’86. Until that happens, no matter how many La Liga and Champions League titles he collects, it will always be the reason Don Diego will have the upper-hand against him.
Hart is still just a kid, of course, but if you’re weighing these things up, you can’t take that into account. You have to compare on parity and age should be disregarded. Taking all things into consideration, you can’t even begin to look past Gianluigi Buffon as the man you’d throw the gloves to in a world eleven. Despite being the grandfather of today’s goalkeepers he is still the best. The years may have blunted the sharpness but they haven't stunted his effectiveness. He is the model of calm consistency. He’s so cool his gloves have to thermally insulated so he doesn’t give himself frostbite. Very rarely do you see him making flashy, acrobatic saves because his positioning is GPS perfect. You will rarely see him make a rash decision or gambling by launching himself, “starfishing” Schmeichel style. That sort of assuredness only comes with at least a decade at the top and a clutch of medals around your neck, of which Buffon has so many it’s probably what brought on the back surgery he had to undergo in 2010.
If he really wants to go right to the top and stand with the Yashins, Banks’ and Schmeichels of this world, he’ll eventually need to leave Man City
Iker Casillas is world class but he’s far from the perfect goalkeeper. He’s seen as the ultimate example of the modern day goalkeeper with his speed around the goalmouth, explosive reactions and ability to be as comfortable with his feet as he is with his hands but this last quality is a myth where Casillas is concerned. His distribution with the ball at his feet isn’t half as good as his compatriots, Valdes, Reina or even De Gea.
Other pretenders such as Nueur, Handanovic, Lloris, Akinfeev and even Reina when he gets his form back, can forget about being world’s best until they are winning the major honours and they’re the reason why those trophies were won in the first place.
As for Hart, if he really wants to go right to the top and stand with the Yashins, Banks’ and Schmeichels of this world, he’ll eventually need to leave Man City. Whatever Manchester City achieve with their millions, Hart will be an old man by the time they can be spoken in the same breath as clubs such as AC Milan, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and their Manchester rivals United. And of all the keepers England has produced over the last 30 years, Joe is the only one who has the technical and mental ability to play for the footballing royalty of Europe and make by making an assault on Buffon’s crown as the undisputed king of the keeper world.
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