Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TAKING HART



Having to choose between Sunderland and Torino might have made Joe Hart think he’d been transported magically and without warning to the 1940s, but it should in fact have carried the City 'keeper back to the 1970s.

Down the years, City have had some wonderfully blunt experiments with the goalkeeping position, some of which have left the club wishing they had gone for Option B, whatever that may have been. Those denizens of the old Kippax terrace, who remember the likes of Perry Suckling, a 40-year-old John Burridge, Bobby Mimms, Mike Stowell, Barry Siddall and Martyn Margetson have not always been able to sleep soundly. 

Modern times have brought City fans Stuart Pearce’s experiment with goalkeeper-strikers and David Seaman’s dabbling with cubism, space and the unspecified effect of riotous hair extensions.

Joe Hart’s story should really have ended differently to a one season loan at Torino, however. Here is England’s international keeper without a proper home to go to. The questions asked of Hart are – in no particular order – is he over-confident, a common problem with goalkeepers who reach the top at an early stage, can he stop shots low to his left – an area looked at in depth here by Skysport’s AdamBate – and, perhaps most poignantly of all, can he play out of defence quickly and accurately to feet as Pep Gaurdiola wants it done?

The purchase of Claudio Bravo the ultimate sweeper-keeper, has already answered the third question. The other two are being hotly debated around Manchester as we speak.

In 1973-74 City’s goalkeeping situation went through a similar crisis of confidence. New manager Johnny Hart switched between Ron Healy, Joe Corrigan and new signing from Motherwell, Keith MacRae. In the end, all that was created was a situation where all three of City’s ‘keepers entered a period of simultaneous self-doubt, scuppering any hopes the club had of fighting for the league title that year.

Corrigan, later to pull himself together and become a long-time England squad goalkeeper at the same time as Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton, was the obvious fall guy to start with. Having been damned by his team mates, skipper Mike Doyle being particularly scathing of his weight problems, Corrigan was dropped and told to slim down.  The Manchester-born shot-stopper had always had problems keeping his weight down to a manageable level, but in 73-74 things finally came to a head.

Dropped for the LeagueCup tie with Walsall in favour of Healey, Hart’s patience had finally run out with Corrigan over a series of sluggish performances, where he felt City had conceded unnecessarily. Ironically, in those days, little importance was attached to the goalkeeper’s ability to set up attacks with passing ability, as the big hoof forward was favoured by almost everyone. In 1970, Corrigan’s lack of ability to do even this unskilled task had been drastically highlighted by a grave error in his kicking against West Ham in Jimmy Greaves’s debut match at a slightly muddy Maine Road. This was an error in a 5-1 home defeat that was replayed mercilessly on television throughout the decade.



Millwall’s Brian King and Gary Sprake, the Welsh international 'keeper in goal at Leeds, were touted as possible replacements for the fumbling, podgy Corrigan, but it was Healey that got the nod in the end. Following his apprenticeship with City in 1969, he had made an early debut at the age of 17 and was thrown in by manager Hart after biding his time on the fringes of the first team.

Within three weeks, however, it had all unravelled for Healey too, as Hart bought MacRae from Motherwell, making him the second most expensive goalkeeper in Britain. Both Healey and Corrigan were left licking their wounds. This public castigation did nothing for either 'keeper’s confidence, with Healey disappearing to Cardiff City soon after (what turned out to be his last appearance for the club had come the week before in defeat at Newcastle) and Corrigan taking the long hard route back to the first team via the reserves, while MacRae was left to stand in the glare of the public eye.

For Joe Hart it has also been a very public character assassination. Over-confident to the point of arrogant to some, needlessly letting in low shots to his left to others and incapable of playing the ball out properly with his feet to yet others, he is on his way to the foot of the Alps in one of the most bizarre transfers of recent times. 

It is written in stone that goalkeepers will be subject to the most public of examinations. The nature of their role almost demands it. Hart’s fall from grace was bookmarked as early as last Christmas, however, when Guardiola’s arrival at City was rubber-stamped for this summer. He has had ample time to work on his weaknesses. Instead he put in a summer tournament for England that was full of pre-match adrenaline and in-match errors that cost his country dearly. It was a slightly odd combination that cast him as an easy villain for the tabloids looking for scapegoats.

Guardiola’s liking for a goalkeeper that can sweep and set up new attacks is well documented. The fascinating story of how it came to be Claudio Bravo who he needed is to be found here in Adam Bate's detailed analysis of a long and precise search. It has been a time-consuming and well considered process, involving many people and many hours of training and honing of skills. 

Hart, meanwhile, has perhaps simply been found to be the wrong man in the wrong place. A more than capable goalkeeper, he is to an extent the victim of his own success. That he has chosen Torino to get his act back together is both a brave, thoughtful and logical step. There are no obvious places free at this late stage among the Premier League’s big hitters and a loan spell out of the limelight will do him no harm. Being the first English keeper to roll up in Serie A will also attract its fair share of positive attention in the meantime.

Corrigan was back as 1st choice for City's 1976 League Cup win v Newcastle
Hart should also take heart from his predecessor's resurrection. Under new manager Ron Saunders, Corrigan actually found himself on the transfer list at the end of 73-74 season and on his way out of the club, but, by the end of 1974-75, it was Corrigan and not the expensive MacRae who had become City’s confirmed number one. For Hart, similar attention to what needs to be improved will almost certainly bring him similar redemption, even if it is most unlikely to be at the Etihad.

And so the spotlight for City falls onto Claudio Bravo, perhaps the greatest modern day exponent of the keeper as sweeper. The fast, straight passes out of the box to Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan or David Silva will seek to bypass the first line of opposition high pressing and launch City through the second rank of defence. It is a simple idea that – when executed accurately – will add devastating speed to City’s already liquid attack. If and when it goes wrong, it will expose City’s defence to all manner of hair raising situations. It is for this reason that Guardiola has sought out the pass master, Claudio Bravo.


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What became of Corrigan after his torrid public dismantling? 
He went on to produce saves like this one, at Leeds in a 1977 
FA Cup tie, on a regular basis and to play for his country. 


2 comments:

  1. Another wonderfully perceptive and nostalgic piece...Thanks, Simon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mike. There are always historical comparisons to be made. Big Joe came back from the edge of disaster. Joe Hart can pull this around too.

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