England goalkeeper Joe Hart insists it is too early to start tagging his generation as the players to breathe new life into Fabio Capello’s team.
Hart marked his first competitive start for England with a superb display in Friday’s 4-0 win over Bulgaria at Wembley, while the international novices Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Adam Johnson also impressed in the Euro 2012 qualifer.
After England’s dismal displays at the World Cup, the so-called golden generation of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard were widely written off and there is a growing appetitie for Capello to overhaul his squad.
The England coach has yet to make sweeping changes but the performances of Hart and company in the absence of the injured Terry, Lampard and Ferdinand suggests there is hope for the future.
Manchester City star Hart made a string of fine saves at crucial moments to preserve England’s advantage before they eventually killed off the Bulgarians.
But Hart, who has just five England caps, is wary of being burdened with too much expectation at this early stage of his career.
The 23-year-old said: “There are some experienced players who have done really well down the years and they have earned their place so it’s a big shout to say the next generation is ready to take over.
“It was nice to do my little bit but I thought all the defenders did brilliantly. Jagielka was great from the off and Gary Cahill did really well when he came on and made a great block before the fourth goal.”
Hart’s impressive performances on loan at Birmingham last season pushed him him into England’s squad for the World Cup, but Capello opted to select David James and Robert Green ahead of him in South Africa.
With James and Green now consigned to international exile, the opportunity is there for Hart to fulfil the praise of his idol David Seaman.
The Arsenal legend claims Hart can be England’s goalkeeper for the next decade.
“He is a guy I look up to and respect massively,” Hart said. “For him to even mention my name is a great honour. I’m just going to do my best whenever I play for my club or country and try to push on.
“I’m trying to enjoy my football. All the opportunities that are coming at the moment are so exciting and I am just trying to embrace them and do the best I can.”
Such high praise is a far cry from the time six years ago when Hart was a teenager trying to establish himself at League Two club Shrewsbury.
“I never really think that far ahead. Not because I didn’t think I was good enough, but at the time I was just focusing on being Shrewsbury’s number one,” he said.
“I can’t stress how important it was to be at Birmingham. If I had sat on my bum last year it would have done no-one any good so I’m very grateful for Alex McLeish for taking me there.”
England’s underwhelming efforts in South Africa have piled pressure on Capello and even the Bulgaria victory will quickly be forgotten if the team slip up against Switzerland in Basel on Tuesday.
As ever England will have to deal with the extra strain of being a prized scalp for a less glamorous team like the Swiss, but Hart is adamant they have to be able to rise to the challenge.
“England are a big scalp for people. Teams look forward to playing us and they want to beat us. That is something we have to embrace,” he said.
There is clearly no question of Hart lacking confidence, as he showed against Bulgaria with a skilful piece of ball-juggling in his penalty area late in the game.
It was the kind of improvisation that may not have gone down so well with Capello however and Hart said: “As soon as I did that I knew I would be in trouble! I got lost in the moment. I wish I hadn’t done it.”
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