As he returned to Manchester City for the start of the 2016/17 campaign, Joe Hart had been the club’s first-choice goalkeeper for more than six years, winning a pair of Premier League titles in the process.
Hart was also coming off of his third consecutive major tournament as England’s number one goalkeeper, after representing the Three Lions at Euro 2016.
However, the arrival of Pep Guardiola as manager at the Etihad Stadium was about to have a drastic impact on Hart’s career.
The Spaniard landed in Lancashire with an impressive resume behind him, having already fine-tuned both Barcelona and Bayern Munich to great success.
One of Guardiola’s hallmarks as a coach was that every player in his squad should be absolutely comfortable with the ball at their feet, including his goalkeepers.
This immediately presented a problem for Hart who, while a fine shot-stopper, wasn’t exactly renowned for sublime distribution with his feet.
Eager to make his case to retain the number one spot at City, Hart recently recalled his first meeting with Guardiola during an appearance on the In The Stiffs podcast – when he quickly realised his days at City were numbered.
“I wanted to get in the door and have this conversation,” said Hart via the Daily Mail. “He was very knowledgeable on my background, very knowledgeable on what we did, how I played football, it was a two-hour conversation that kind of ended with him saying “I can’t see this working”
“I said ‘I don’t agree with you’. He said ‘I’ll be the first person to be proved wrong but what I see in you isn’t what I want from my goalkeeper’. I was like ‘it’s only fair I be given the opportunity’. He said ‘of course you’ll be given the opportunity, but …’. As soon as there are any ‘buts’ at the end you know there’s a decision.
“I wanted the opportunity to be coached by one of the best at it. Of course I didn’t know how to do it, why would I know how to do something that I’d never been asked to do or taught to do?
“I suppose he was right, I couldn’t do it, he couldn’t just drop me into a team to play like he wanted to at that moment in time.”
Despite his insistence that he would stay and fight for his place, Hart played just one more competitive game for City – a 1-0 Champions League qualifying round win over Steaua Bucharest – before being shipped out on loan to Serie A side Torino.
Realistically, the writing was on the wall for Hart the moment that Guardiola was confirmed as City boss months earlier. Always destined to be third-choice under the new regime behind fresh recruit Claudio Bravo and Argentine Willy Caballero, the England keeper had to move on, but insists he still has fond overall memories of his time with the club.
“It was taken away from me, but so what? I’m not bigger than anyone and if that’s my path then that’s my path. The people of Manchester City will forever be in my heart, I’ll forever be grateful for that, but the team, the hierarchy, they’re businessmen.”
After a decade of loyal service, it didn’t take Pep long to dispense with Hart in ruthless fashion. However, with eight major trophies under his belt since taking the reigns at City, Guardiola’s no-nonsense style undeniably yields results.