Joe Hart was restored to the Manchester City starting line-up for the second leg of the Champions League play-off clash with Steaua Bucharest in what is likely to be a farewell appearance for the club’s longest-serving player.
The England goalkeeper has not featured in City’s opening three matches of the season, with Willy Caballero preferred by new boss Pep Guardiola, who has reservations over Hart’s capacity to build from the back and anticipate opposition attacks as a “sweeper-keeper”.
The anticipated arrival of Chile international Claudio Bravo this week will dump Hart further down the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium.
On Monday, England manager Sam Allardyce conceded Hart’s lack of first-team football is a concern on the back of the 29-year-old’s error-strewn showing at Euro 2016 and he can be expected to seek a fresh start before the transfer window closes this week.
That means Wednesday’s match in Manchester, with City 5-0 up following a dominant first-leg showing, is likely to be an emotionally charged affair for fan favourite Hart.
He joined City as a teenager from Shrewsbury in 2006, making his first-team debut that October in a 0-0 draw at home to Sheffield United.
Loan spells with Tranmere Rovers and Blackpool followed before Hart established himself as the club’s number one, despite competition from Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Isaksson, during Sven-Goran Eriksson’s sole season at the helm in 2008-09.
Although Hart initially retained his place at City under Mark Hughes, the January 2009 signing of Shay Given – four months on from the takeover by Sheikh Mansour that would transform the club’s fortunes – meant Hart lost his starting berth and went on to spend the 2009-10 campaign on loan at Birmingham City.
His form for Birmingham helped him to win a place in England’s 2010 World Cup squad and persuade Hughes’ successor Roberto Mancini that he was worthy of replacing Given at City in 2010-11.
Hart instantly repaid his manager’s faith with a virtuoso display in an opening-day 0-0 draw at Tottenham, in the process nailing down a spot in the team that would end City’s 35-year trophy drought by lifting the 2011 FA Cup.
Premier League titles followed in 2011-12 and 2013-14, with four-time Golden Glove-winner Hart a standout performer at home and abroad, as he impressed despite City’s less convincing tilts at Champions League glory.
They are all achievements that have counted for nothing in his brief time under Guardiola, however, with Hart set for one more appearance before becoming the standout casualty at the start of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach’s City reign.
Yaya Toure, who played under Guardiola at Barcelona but is expected to join Hart in leaving the club, was also named in the starting XI on Wednesday.