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Neville Southall: Why Manchester City should stick with Joe Hart (and England too)

by Aidan Elder | October 4, 2013

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Neville Southall was never afraid to speak his mind as a player and his column for the Paddy Power Blog is no different. This week he tells football to back off on Joe Hart

Be careful what you wish for. People are talking about getting Joe Hart out of the Manchester City team and the England team, but this is the man England are going to the World Cup with. He’s the best English goalkeeper by a mile. Over the course of his career he’ll save his teams far more points than he’ll give away. Coming to conclusions now is counter-productive.

Critics are queuing up to take potshots at Hart. It’s just one of the things you go through as a goalkeeper. I’ve seen it before. Once you make the first mistake, you’re so anxious that it doesn’t happen again that you seize up a bit when what he really needs to do is relax and do what comes naturally to him. There isn’t much wrong with him. The goals on Wednesday were down to not getting his hands right. No goalkeeper in the world has been fantastic season after season and dips in form are to be expected, even from the greats.

It’s like a half-finished Mona Lisa. If you walked in on Leonardo Da Vinci when he was in the middle of painting the Mona Lisa and you’d probably say ‘that’s shit’. But you need to wait until the end to see the finished product and suddenly it’s a masterpiece. Hart (26) is still in the first half of his career. He’s not even near his peak. Instead of people slaughtering him, people need to remember how remarkably well he’s done for a man of his age. A few mistakes and couple of bad games now and then are normal for goalkeepers. Calling for him to be dropped is ridiculous.

DON'T GIVE HIM A HART TIME - Joe doesn't deserve the level of criticism he's received (pic: Inpho)

DON’T GIVE HIM A HART TIME – Joe doesn’t deserve the level of criticism he’s received (pic: Inpho)

Celtic’s Fraser Forster was mentioned as a replacement for England. He’s a good keeper, but would you be confident heading into a World Cup with him given how little experience he has of international football? He gets his few games in the Champions League every year and does well, but for 80 per cent of the season, it’s the Scottish Premier League and it doesn’t compare to the English Premier League. He needs to step up to becoming a consistently top quality performer in the English Premier League before I’d be happy with making him England’s number one.

Casillas isn’t a Real solution

I read recently David Platt saying they were looking to replace Hart, but who do you replace him with? Who is guaranteed to be better in the long term? Iker Casillas gets mentioned, but he is useless. I can’t see what people see in him. He’s got away with murder behind that Real Madrid and Spain team for years. I’d have Joe Hart over him any day of the week. He’s twice the goalie Casillas is.

Hart is going through that thing all top English players go through – the ‘we’ve made you, now we can break you’ syndrome. The non-English players and I used to laugh like hell at the English players because they used to get hounded by the media. It happens a lot in a World Cup year when everyone feels like they can have their say and the intensity gets increased markedly. Joe knows he had a bad game and he doesn’t need everyone coming out and telling him. When it happened to me, I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to get back onto the pitch and put it right. He’ll be hurting and he’ll want to be better next time.

He needs support now, not people who don’t know what they’re talking about kicking him while he’s down. Competition won’t help because I’m sure Joe is pushing himself are far as he can already. If he needs someone else to come in and put pressure on him, then he shouldn’t be a professional footballer.

City v Everton – Not like days gone pie

Everton have a great recent record against Manchester City home and away and that’s because playing them suited David Moyes’ style perfectly. He was never going to go to City and try to win, he was always trying not to lose and City played into his hands. Roberto Martinez will be going there to win as he showed in the FA Cup Final. If I was a City fan, I wouldn’t be too worried about the result against Bayern Munich. You’re talking about the European champions and they clearly had a bad day at the office. The performance against United was a truer reflection of what they can do. That said, I still think Everton can get something out of the game. A draw is definitely possible, maybe even win.

The arrival of Chilean, ex-Real Madrid manager exemplifies  just how much the City-Everton fixture has changed (pic: Inpho)

The arrival of a Chilean, ex-Real Madrid coach shows just how much the City-Everton fixture has changed (pic: Inpho)

It’s a fixture that’s changed a lot over the years. When I was playing it was a proper northern game with the smell of smoke and pies in the air. The atmosphere was properly northern. You could see the scallies going into the ground and they’d give you some stick and whatever, but it was always an electric atmosphere. It’s not as intense these days because of the changing nationalities of personnel on the pitch. It’s used to be a big northwest derby for the fans and probably still is, but now it’s just another game for the players.

There’s always been a good connection between the two clubs with players going back and forward between the clubs over the years. Maine Road was the venue for one of the worst performances I’ve ever been involved in. We got beaten 4-0 there back in 1994 under one of the worst managers I’ve ever played under, Mike Walker and it was a dreadful performance. That’s my strongest memory of playing Manchester City and it’s not a good one. I’ll probably never get that out of my mind, but getting three points on Saturday would be a start!

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