In the week where Joe Hart achieved his 110th Premier League clean sheet in a tense Manchester derby, it is a good time to look back at the career of England’s number one goalkeeper.
To keep a clean sheet in such a competitive league is an achievement in itself, but to reach 110 in 276 appearances is a particularly impressive record.
Albeit, Hart wasn’t tested much throughout the game on Sunday, but the stopper did get down smartly late on to deny a goal-bound effort from Chris Smalling, and may have even got a vital touch on Jesse Lingard’s strike which hit the bar.
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He is fairly secure in his number one spot for both club and country, but whilst his talent as a goalkeeper is not in doubt, some would argue this is partly down to a lack of serious competition in both sides, Willy Caballero and Jack Butland are his closest challengers to a starting berth.
Joining City from Shrewsbury Town in 2006, the goalkeeper spent time on loan at Tranmere, Blackpool and Birmingham City. It was during his last spell where Hart particularly excelled, impressing the Sky Blues coaching staff enough to pip Shay Given to the number one position for the 2010/11 Premier League opener. A man of the match performance against Tottenham fully justified his selection.
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Now aged 28, Hart is City’s longest serving player and in the prime of his career. Renowned for his commanding attitude and unflappable confidence, he has proven himself with a number of outstanding performances over the years.
His shot-stopping ability has never been in question, however, his consistency has. During his first couple of seasons under then City manager Roberto Mancini, Hart was unbeatable, guiding the Citizens to league and cup glory and providing the Sky Blues with what every top tier team needs – a defensive leader and a strong personality in the dressing room.
The odd mistake or lapse in concentration from a usual stalwart went unnoticed and a couple of standout individual displays - including the 2012 clash with Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad - reaffirmed his status as a world-class goalkeeper. During this period, the man from humble beginnings in Shrewsbury was being spoken about in the same ilk as Manuel Neuer and Iker Casillas.
With City’s main Premier League rivals without such security between the sticks - namely United struggling to replace Edwin Van der Sar with an uncertain David de Gea and Arsenal experimenting with Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny – Hart was arguably the best in England along with Chelsea’s Petr Cech.
Mancini was shown the Etihad exit and made way for the more holistic Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini. With City expected to improve on their efforts quickly, the pressure was on new boss to get the most out of his squad, and when Hart began to under-perform, the former Malaga and Real Madrid boss made a huge call.
Hart found himself dropped from the starting line-up and replaced by the towering Costel Pantilimon, reminding the players that no one was untouchable.
The manager was keen to insist the drop was not permanent, but Hart was mentally tired and needed the break.
Pellegrini's call was proven correct, with the Englishman looking more focused and determined not to let his performances falter on his return to the side. City went on to win the league and although the defence remained shaky on occasion, Hart looked reassured and comfortable between the sticks again.
After spending around five games absent from the starting line-up, the England number one has since shown consistency, leadership and more excellent individual performances. His display in the away leg against eventual winners Barcelona, in last season's Champions League, being one of his finest.
With the Premier League currently boasting several other great goalkeepers in the form of Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, David de Gea and Cech, the Englishman has healthy competitive comparisons around him, all of which he will thrive off and endeavour to be better than.
Hart will hope that he can maintain his high level of performance and continue to push for the game's major honours as he becomes an experienced head for club and country.
For City fans, he will already be remembered as a great goalkeeper and at 28, he is still only young for a player of his position. Here's to another 110 clean sheets.
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