England’s Number One Joe Hart – Are England in Safe Hands?

Joe Hart is England's best but thereafter things look edgyAs the domestic season draws to a close, attention will soon switch to England’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland on June 4th. One topic currently hot in the news is the alarming shortage of English goalkeepers Fabio Capello has at his disposal with a potential crisis on the horizon in the build up to next summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

The lack of available goalkeepers highlights the problems in international football at present as it struggles to compete with the prestige of the Premier League and Champions League competitions.  

Sparked by West Ham goalkeeper Rob Green’s decision to return to international football in the last few days after a six month exile to replace otherwise engaged Fulham number two David Stockdale in England’s latest squad, the goalkeeper’s international U turn has once again reignited the club vs. country debate. 

However, should the injury jinx strike recently established England number one goalkeeper Joe Hart next summer, realistically who is in a position to challenge him for the gloves?

Simple, the number of possible replacements ready to take his place are few and far between. It would appear that he remains the only recognised goalkeeper in England capable and willing to wear the three lion’s shirt with pride.

Not since the days of ponytail favourite David Seaman have England had a settled goalkeeper, only now is Joe Hart beginning to show the necessary qualities to mention in the same breath as Banks and Shilton, two former Wembley legends.

On the other hand though, those around him fighting to take his place between the sticks are dropping like flies and not fighting like brave heart lions to take the number one jersey. The club vs. country row is in full swing as more and more senior players are choosing to prolong their club career instead of chasing international success with England.

For example both Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson and Birmingham keeper Ben Foster have put there international careers on hold, to concentrate on playing for their respective clubs, citing a lack of rest as the main reason for making themselves unavailable. Granted all three clubs were locked in a relegation battle this season, but surely the chance to walk out for your country at Wembley in front of 80,000 passionate fans is enough to fight for the right to be England number one, clearly not.

So who does that actually leave to challenge Hart for a place on the plane to Poland and Ukraine? West Brom keeper Scott Carson has the most domestic experience of the available keepers, but his horror performance at Wembley against Croatia in a must win Euro 2008 qualifier have limited him to just 3 international caps. Alternately Capello could call upon the likes of Frankie Fielding, David Stockdale and Scott Loach who have all been surprise inclusions in recent squads.

Introducing young players is good from a development point of view, but let’s be honest are any of them ready to step in if and when called upon. The answer is no. Fans need to be chanting “England’s number one” at Premier League grounds across the country not Championship grounds. As black and white as that seems, this is the harsh reality facing England if they want to be successful. English keepers need to be playing for the best clubs in England and the fact they are not is perhaps where the problem lies. The presence of big spending Manchester City in next seasons Champions League is good for English football and good for Joe Hart and maybe it will go some way to propelling England to glory next summer.

You only have to look to the success of the Spanish national side in recent years, who in Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina have 3 world class goalkeepers to call upon. Compare the success they have had over the last four years, Champions League winners, World and European cup winners and countless domestic trophies to share between them to 2011 FA cup winner Joe Hart and there is only ever going to be one winner. Unless England actually want to beat the likes of Spain, Holland and Germany in a knockout match, then competition for places needs to be stepped up fast and this begins from the goalkeeper. To be successful you need a good goalkeeper to command the first line of defence, someone with experience to command the team to. Something that England with the exception of Joe Hart are currently without.

On the flipside to this, England do have the youthful passion of emerging talents such as Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll to call upon, along with born again PFA player of the season Scott Parker anchoring the centre of midfield to compliment the experienced spine of Ferdinand, Terry, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney. All, it must be said wear their heart on their sleeves every time they step over the white line.  

England need hope, stability and players with bags of energy enough to keep the St George flag flying high and not to be surrounded by players who have asked to not be included in a squad, if they are to harbor any aspirations of winning the European Championships.

Let’s not forget England’s disappointing World Cup campaign last summer in South Africa and the widespread controversy and disappointment it bought with it. Unless the current group of stars want to avoid this happening again, something needs to change quickly or it will be the boys from Wembley once again that are tasting the pain of yet another tournament heartache and not toasting the success that their talent richly deserves.