Eighteen months have passed since Joe Hart rang Tom Heaton to deliver the bad news.
‘I am signing for your club,’ said Hart. Heaton was baffled.
Both he and Burnley team-mate Nick Pope had suffered injury problems but by the summer of 2018 Heaton was fit and expecting to play. Within a week of his arrival, Hart had dislodged the club captain in goal.
Joe Hart hasn't played in the Premier League for 400 days and is stuck on the Burnley bench
Earlier this season, Heaton, now at Aston Villa, was struck down by another serious injury. It gave Dean Smith and Gareth Southgate a headache. Like Burnley, Villa had considered Hart, only to choose Pepe Reina instead.
And in the run-up to this summer’s European Championship, there’s a hole in England’s plans, too. Again Hart is among the potential alternatives.
Again, though, attention is likely to turn elsewhere.
Anyone who fancies Hart to make the England squad can back him at odds as long as 150-1. It’s a staggering price for a keeper who is only 32 and has 75 caps to his name. Birmingham’s Jude Bellingham, 16, is only 100-1.
By now, though, Hart is used to life in the cold. For over a year he has been warming the bench at Turf Moor.
Thursday marked 400 days since he featured in the English top flight. Once considered among the world’s best, Hart is being left to rot.
Hart has seen his stock fall from being England's No 1 to backup for Sean Dyche's side
In late 2004, League Two strugglers Shrewsbury Town were on the hunt for a new manager. Their preferred candidate needed some extra persuasion. So, following his interview, Gary Peters stayed to watch the reserves. In goal was the 17-year-old Joe Hart. His performance helped Peters make up his mind but the manager was soon faced with a dilemma.
‘The captain of the club was the goalkeeper,’ recalls Peters. ‘One of the first decisions I had to make was to tell him that Joe was going to play.’
Peters was struck by Hart’s character as well as his ability. ‘You’d definitely want your daughter to meet him and marry him,’ he says.
Hart could play, too. ‘One of the things Joe was very good at was passing, finding people and coming out with the ball,’ remembers Peters. ‘It was something I had to discourage sometimes!’
The irony is not lost on Peters all these years on. At the time, though, it seemed nothing could halt Hart’s progress.
Hart enjoyed much success at Manchester City, winning two league titles and the FA Cup
Manchester United and Everton had a look at the teenager. As they dithered, Manchester City snapped him up.
‘Not just ability-wise but in terms of mental strength he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,’ says Micah Richards, a friend and former team-mate at City.
Chris Woods was Everton’s goalkeeping coach when they let him slip through the net.
‘Joe has an aura about him,’ said Woods in late 2017, while the pair were at West Ham. ‘He is a vital member of the team.’
But a day after that glowing endorsement, he played his last Premier League match for nearly four months. The keeper began the season as No 1, only to lose his place following a drubbing by Everton.
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