After a series of high-profile errors in the last couple of seasons, and coinciding with Costel Pantelimon's man of the match display against Newcastle United midweek, Joe Hart appears likely to lose the Manchester City goalkeeping jersey for this weekends Premier League match.
What is worth noting is just how serious a gesture this is in the career of a goalkeeper. There are few instances of a goalkeeper being dropped after a bad run of form and coming back the better player for it. One need only look no further than Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who when dropped last season by Jose Mourinho, was widely considered to be the best goalkeeper in the world. Now, after his deputy performed well in his absence, and more importantly, did little wrong, he cannot get back in the team, and he may go from national captain to the bench for Spain's defence of the World Cup.
Likewise for England, Hart's axing from the Man City team could have serious repercussions for the national team, especially as there are not so many alternatives for the goalkeeping jersey. Fraser Forster, possibly Hart's nearest rival, and linked to join City in January, has still yet to play for England. Whoever takes over from Hart, they will not be of the same proven quality or experience as Spain's back-up keepers Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes.
The danger with the goalkeeping position is that there is only one opening in any one team. If you have a central defender that was dropped due to poor form, you can ease him back in alongside a more in-form and secure partner. You could even bring him on for the last quarter of a match if the game is well won and comfortable. And of course, the player will be chomping at the bit to take that starting position should a current first teamer suffer an injury. Goalkeepers experience less debilitating injuries than their outfield teammates, therefore making any change normally as a result of form and therefore damaging to their confidence. It is not customary to bring them on for the last twenty minutes of a match, and they are more likely to perform out of their skin when given their chance as well as being more likely to suffer from lack of confidence if they feel their position is under threat. Pantilimon is unlikely to take away Hart's role as number one, purely because he isn't a high enough profile player. He would have to become the best goalkeeper in the league for the rest of the season to convince the Citizens' hierarchy not to invest in another top quality keeper. Diego Lopez has done something similar at Real, but it is probable a personality clash between Casillas and Mourinho played a part in his opportunity.
Perhaps the only way for Hart to rediscover his form is to genuinely feel he is number two in the goalkeeping queue at his club, and have to seize his chance in such a way as he did as a young keeper breaking into the starting line up. He may have to lose the security he will hold on to even if he's dropped today in favour of the giant Romanian, and rediscover the hunger of a backup keeper wanting to be first choice once again. The only way this is realistically possible is if City sign a big name keeper in January, who in turn suffers a serious injury or a serious loss of form.
But that might take time, and it may impact his England career, and England's chances in the upcoming World Cup. And who knows whether Hart has the patience to remain at City for that.
image: © illarterate