Joe Hart: Interview: Nothing wrong with that wall…

From the very first moment, it is clear this will not be a routine interview. Mario Balotelli is in the room and he’s not really supposed to be.

‘What’s this?’ he enquires, standing at the door. ‘It’s an interview, Mario.’

‘What interview? Why?’ he asks. ‘Joe and the Daily Mail. Nothing to do with you.’

(Getty)

(Getty)

‘Oh. I will stay and listen,’ he affirms, closing the door. So, in a small office off the Manchester City home dressing room, Joe Hart prepares to  talk while his controversial team-mate settles himself down, elbows on knees, on the edge of a nearby physio bed.

‘With the good comes the bad and you have to deal with it. ‘The season has been indifferent. We have had two teams, one in Europe and one in the league.  We know we haven’t been great all the time but we know we have that greatness inside us and when it does come it will put us in a very good place.

‘I am in a position where so many people say so many nice things and that’s great. But sometimes it’s inevitable that you will find someone who doesn’t agree and will criticise you. I think it actually pays to listen to those who may be saying things that hurt you at the time. At the end of the day, you may learn something.’

Are you listening to this Mario?

(Getty)

(Getty)

Hart’s own manager Roberto Mancini, for example, blamed his goalkeeper for setting his wall up incorrectly moments before Van Persie’s free-kick found the bottom corner, courtesy of Samir Nasri’s outstretched leg.

‘There was no problem with the wall,’ said Hart. ‘It’s plain to see what happened. The ball was coming straight into my midriff. If it doesn’t take a deflection it lands in my hands. But sometimes things happen.

‘I don’t care what other people say, I know what I’m doing. I know how many people I want in my wall. It cuts you deeply. It will have cut every City fan in that stadium.

‘Inches and centimetres make the  difference at this level but I have looked at the tape. It’s a freak goal but it’s nothing new. We train for these things and sometimes it works the other way.

‘I have had plenty of times when it has worked in my favour. There have been plenty of times when a player has had all the praise for scoring a great goal. People will say, “What a wonderful goal, he is the best player in the world”. But deep down inside you know you probably should have saved it. But nobody says that, they don’t realise. So it cuts both ways. It’s life.’

‘There is no point thinking, “How dare they say or write that about me”. There is no law saying that people can only say nice things. The people on Sky you mention don’t get paid to work for us or to defend English clubs in the Champions League. If that’s their opinion then that’s great.

‘I think it’s nice to point out that they don’t know the club and have nothing to do with the club and know nothing about what goes on here. They certainly don’t know the manager. But it’s just the same as people having a conversation outside on the street. People get hyped up and emotional.

After Madrid

‘Obviously there are ways of  saying things. I don’t give my exact opinion on everything. That would be stupid. And in terms of the questions asked about football, I am never gonna dig anyone out personally. But everyone is watching it and the majority of those people know football. So you have to tell it how it is sometimes.

‘I have had foreign coaches at England and City. It is what it is. When it gets heated then you will misinterpret things and get things wrong. But it’s not important.

‘I was very comfortable with what I said in Madrid. I was comfortable because I knew I hadn’t said anything wrong. I wasn’t particularly angry because I knew that when it was explained properly to him [Mancini] then there would be no problem.’

Hart has come a long way in three years. It is not long ago that he spent a season on loan at Birmingham after City manager Mark Hughes recruited Shay Given as his No 1. At the time he wasn’t sure he would ever be back.

‘It was a genuine thought at the time,’ he recalled. ‘I had no clue what was happening. Shay was one of the best in the Premier League and I thought I may have to go down a different path. Luckily I came back. Not everyone thinks I’m great. The previous manager didn’t. I had to accept that and find one that thinks I am.’

Mancini made his choice two and a half seasons ago. Given ended up at Aston Villa and Hart strode  forward to establish himself as  perhaps the most proficient goalkeeper in the Premier League. Now it’s the manager who always seems to be under pressure.

‘Part of the difficulty is pressure but it’s not that that stops us  winning games. Sides know us now, for example. They don’t play to win, they play to draw or get out alive. That makes it hard but it’s life at the top. I’m not saying we have been terrible because we haven’t. It’s just nice to know we can do more.

‘I think we are on an even par with United. They carry that tradition and that shirt, that red shirt that takes them to a different level sometimes. But I’m sure that over time the blue shirt will be the same.

‘I feel that when we play we are never gonna lose. I feel that something will always happen. Maybe it has happened more often with United over the years and so people say it is ‘classic United’. But we are beginning to do that too. It just needs two or three players to come good this season and everything will change.

‘As for me, I just do anything I can to stop the ball going in the net. I will take anything for this team. I will face any battle, mental or physical.’

Are you listening to this, Mario?

Later, Hart is to go in goal for some penalties and the mind is taken back to a hot June night in Kiev when the England goalkeeper’s goal-line gurning was not enough to stop Andrea Pirlo or to prevent Italy winning a penalty shoot-out in Euro 2012. Any regrets about those faces, then?

‘Well it didn’t work with this one, did it?’ smiled Hart, glancing over at Balotelli. ‘I actually just thought it would help the situation.

‘One of the Italian players was fuming with me ‘cos I had smiled at him as we were waiting for the shoot-out to start. I thought it would help in my favour if I tried to wind the others up. What I didn’t know was that guy wasn’t even playing! He was injured!

‘But it was a crazy, intense moment and people react differently. It was a confidence that I was trying to give off in a very nerve-wracking situation. I felt strong and in control. It felt like the right thing to do. Obviously it wasn’t. But I wasn’t showing off, I was just trying to do right by my team.

‘Would I do it again? If I felt it was right then of course, but if I didn’t feel it was the right path to go down then I wouldn’t. The whole intention was to put the other team off and make them miss.

‘Bruce Grobbelaar did it [for Liverpool in Rome in 1984] and it worked. It didn’t for me. But that’s the fine line that we live and die by. If you are scared of that line then you have no chance.

‘I was just the England goalkeeper. I was not trying to set a new trend of how to save penalties. I was just doing what I thought was right.’

By the end of our interview,  Balotelli is lying on his back looking at an iPad. Who knows if he has been listening at all to half an hour of common sense and clear logic. If he wasn’t then, for a young man in need of professional guidance, it was a clear opportunity missed.

Read the entire interview on the Daily Mail website

 

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