Goalkeeping bloomers

Joe Hart’s disastrous night against Bayern Munich in a home European Cup game was only the latest in a sustained series of errors for both club, Manchester City, and country, England, writes Brian Glanville.

Alas, poor Hart. Joe Hart, whose dreadful series of goalkeeping blunders made a gift of Manchester City’s home European Cup game against Bayern Munich, who hardly needed his assistance, given their immense superiority. But of the three goals they did score in Manchester, two at least could be directly attributed to the errors of Joe Hart, nor was he wholly guiltless with the other. The first traumatising Bayern goal came when that elusive, gifted French winger Franck Ribery collected a long crossfield ball on the left and shot; hardly irresistible. But somehow the reigning England goalkeeper, with a plain view of the 25-yard shot, contrived, though well placed, to dive, stick out an arm and left the ball into his own goal.

Did that demoralise him? Certainly Bayern’s second goal could be put down to the defensive inadequacy of the full-back, Clichy, enabling Thomas Muller to outflank Hart and score with ease. Though there were those who felt Hart might have been more resourceful. Bayern’s third goal, however, by that ever wily left-footer and cutter inside Arjen Robben came from a dreadful goalkeeping blunder. In this instance, Hart got a hand to Robben’s shot, but too weakly to keep it out.

All this just days away from England’s vital home game in the World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro, to be followed again at Wembley with the ultimate match against Poland; who had left bitter memories of the game there which kept England out of the 1974 World Cup. So, Roy Hodgson, the England manager, was left with the nightmarish dilemma of whether to stay faithful to Hart for these two matches. Or should he, as some believe, turn to a goalkeeper who the night before, in Glasgow, made three glorious saves in the Celtic goal against Barcelona? He may be playing for Scottish team, but Fraser Forster is an Englishman.

The problem is that he has never yet played for England despite his Glaswegian prowess. Wembley is not Celtic Park, and international football is a very different phenomenon than even European Cup football. It has been pointed out that when the doomed England coach Steve McClaren replaced one blundering goalkeeper in Paul Robinson with what proved a no less vulnerable ’keeper in Scott Carson, one embarrassing mistake was followed by another.

The fact is, however, that Hart’s disastrous night against Bayern was only the latest in a sustained series of errors for both club and country. So much so that it is said that Manchester City’s former manager Roberto Mancini, who left the club last season, was prepared to let Hart go.

When Ukraine came to Wembley in England’s present group, I thought Hart should have saved the goal they scored, though it was well deserved on the run of play; and gave Ukraine a draw. Last season in Stockholm, playing against Sweden, he came recklessly out of his goal, enabling the acrobatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, admittedly with technical virtuosity, to catapult the ball into an empty goal. Playing for England in Poland in October 2012, he failed to punch away a corner, enabling Kamil Glik to head into the vacant goal and gain the Poles a draw. Last August, at Wembley, in a friendly against an unfavoured but defiant Scotland side, he could do no better than push an unexceptional long shot by James Morrison into the net.

Not to mention a catalogue of disasters, playing for City. Last December, at Sunderland, he was strangely slow to react to another drive from distance by Adam Johnson which was allowed to slide in at his near post. At Southampton, a shot by Rickie Lambert sped between his legs, Steven Davis following up to score. Another shot slipped between his legs last April at home to West Ham, Andy Carroll being the lucky scorer. And in August this year, a sensational defeat at newly promoted Cardiff came when he missed a high cross.

That Hart is talented goalkeeper is beyond dispute, as he showed majestically in Rio last summer, when only he and a catalogue of glorious saves stood between England and a deluge of Brazilian goals during the first-half; England ultimately escaping with a draw. Yes, we know that on his day he can emphatically do it and we cannot be sure, whatever Forster’s prodigies against Barcelona, that he would be as inspired and ultra reliable in important England games.

Croatia would, in the European Championship qualifiers, prove a nemesis for England. In Zagreb, in early October 2006, Paul Robinson kicked out at a back pass, but the ball, striking a divot, rolled past him into the England goal. Inexplicably, McClaren persisted with Robinson, who rewarded him by reproducing all too plainly his demoralised club form for Spurs. In a Wembley friendly against Germany, he turned a centre ineptly on to his own bar. Germany scored. In Moscow, in a European game against Russia, he fumbled a shot he should have held. Russia scored and won. Enter at Wembley against Croatia, when qualification was still possible, poor Scott Carson. He allowed a far from irresistible long shot by Niko Kranjcar to spin off his gloves into the net. So Croatia won, England were out.

Fast forward to the South African World Cup of 2010. This time the doomed goalkeeper was Robert Green, beaten absurdly by an indifferent shot from way out by America’s Clint Dempsey. England laboured on to draw. Yet, even as splendid, much capped, a ’keeper as David Seaman had his disasters. Not least against Brazil in Japan in the 2006 World Cup when he allowed Ronaldinho’s diabolic swerving free-kick to sail over his head and into the net, leaving him in tears and England on the way out.

In October 2002, in a European Championship game against Slovakia in Southampton, he let in a corner at his near post. And hard to forget was the 50-yard shot in Paris by Zaragosa’s Nayim which also sailed over him, defeating Arsenal. Yet, this was a goalkeeper who performed minor miracles in his time, a resilient saver of penalties.

One thinks of Ricardo Zamira of Spain, reckoned the finest ’keeper in Europe who came to play England at Highbury in 1931, and let in seven. “He says he is nothing in Madrid tonight,” the interpreter told Dixie Dean, the prolific England centre-forward. “Tell him he’s not much here either,” said Dean unkindly. Yet, this was a hero of Spain’s 1934 World Cup defiance of Italy in Florence.

As the Romans had it, to err is human. And ’keepers are human, too.