Pep Guardiola praised Joe Hart’s attitude and application ahead of Manchester City’s Premier League opener versus Sunderland but refused to give any guarantees over the England goalkeeper’s future at the Etihad Stadium.
Hart endured a chastening Euro 2016 with England, making glaring errors in the matches against Wales and Iceland.
The 29-year-old’s future has been a matter of much speculation during the close-season, with the changes to City’s style implemented by Guardiola reported to include the desire for a “sweeper-keeper” who joins his defence in passing out from the back.
With Hart thought to be lacking in this department, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been linked to City.
Guardiola is pleased with Hart’s efforts in preparation for the new campaign on the back of his England nightmare but, speaking at a pre-match news conference, he stopped short of a ringing endorsement.
“Joe is a player I’m so happy about his qualities, his behaviour, what he means to this club,” he said.
“After we are going to decide inside the doors. Now, he is a player of us.”
One England international whose position in the Guardiola revolution seems particularly secure is John Stones.
The 22-year-old centre-back became the most expensive defender in Premier League history when he completed a long-mooted switch from Everton earlier this week.
Guardiola will be without another of his major recruits, Germany forward Leroy Sane, due to a hamstring injury, but he believes Stones is fit enough to play a part against Sunderland having completed much of his pre-season at Goodison Park.
“He is fit. He played with [Everton manager] Ronald Koeman four, five, six friendly games [for] 90 minutes, so he is fit,” Guardiola explained.
“I think it is important for us, an English player, a young player, a huge talent – not just [as a] central defender, with his ability to build-up [play], with his intelligence to read the next step, the next pass behind the line.
“I think he is a good, good, good player so we are happy to have him.”
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach underlined that this ability to anticipate play offsets the lack of time Stones has enjoyed on the training field with his new team-mates.
Stones could slot into the heart of defence alongside Nicolas Otamendi versus Sunderland, although Guardiola cautioned he would assess the Argentina international’s recovery from a tendon problem with one eye on next Tuesday’s Champions League play-off trip to Steaua Bucharest.
“Of course there is a lack of time [for Stones], it’s true,” the City boss added. “But he reads the game.
“The people who are intelligent they read exactly what is going on, what they have to do. John Stones, that is why we took him. I think he’s ready.
“The others, I know maybe 80 per cent or 90 per cent who will play tomorrow.”