Loan Shark: Joe Hart's Dilemma
With the World Cup just around the corner, it's slightly worrying that England's number one goalkeeper is only deemed good enough to sit on the bench at club level.
Joe Hart, currently on loan at West Ham United from Manchester City, was made a scapegoat for the club's poor start to the season. A poor start which cost manager Slaven Bilic his job before winter arrived.
Now there's a new man in town. David Moyes. A new man with (surprisingly) new ideas. Unfortunately for Hart, the England stopper doesn't seem to be among those new ideas. Moyes has engineered three consecutive clean sheets for the Hammers. None included Hart.
When Pep Guardiola took over the reigns at City, Hart's days were numbered. Pep had clearly seen a weakness in the England keeper. He decided to act swiftly, bringing in Barcelona netminder, Claudio Bravo. The entire Premier League then saw the Chilean's weakness.
Hart, unhappy at being publicly dumped, sought a new challenge. He found one in Turin. Serie A is a brave test for an Englishman. Not many top British footballers ply their trade in foreign lands. The results didn't reward Hart's courage. Torino's defence leaked goals like the Titanic leaked water.
Hart returned to the Premier League. Despite Bravo's less than bravura season, Hart was still unwelcome in what was now Pep's house. He was loaned out again, this time to another club on English soil. West Ham looked a good fit until its players decided to down tools on their manager.
Now England has a goalkeeper who isn't getting a look in, yet, despite stated intentions to the contrary, is almost certain to start for Gareth Southgate's side in Russia next June.
England's other candidates are comparatively inexperienced.
Stoke's Jack Butland is an able deputy. He is also getting plenty of practice as Stoke's season begins to mirror West Ham's early form.
Then there is young Everton stopper, Jordan Pickford. A great young keeper with superb distribution, he was also part of a side struggling early that saw its manager pay the price. Upon Sam Allardyce's Goodison Park arrival, though, Pickford wasn't benched. Rather, he's started racking up clean sheets.
Ben Foster has pretty much been on the Three Lions fringes for a decade. He has hardly been pulling up trees at West Bromwich Albion. The same can be said for Fraser Forster, down on the south coast at Saint Mary's.
With no English goalkeeper playing for a top six side (Burnley's Tom Heaton is injured ), it really is a worrying time for England fans. In years gone by, the country was blessed with decent keepers. Now they all just seem to be much of a muchness.
Regardless whether Hart has been treated unfairly or finally exposed as overrated, one hopes Southgate doesn't pick on reputation. If his number one has not forced his way back between the sticks at the London Olympic Stadium, Wembley and Russia should be off the cards. For now, you really can't see past Butland or Pickford, but may the best man win.