Earlier this season, Joe Hart made history without even touching a ball when he signed for Torino on loan.
It goes without saying that the English international endured a torrid time at this summer’s Euro tournament. And so, when Pep Guardiola officially took over at the helm of Manchester City, the writing on the wall was as clear as day. Guardiola’s public courtship of Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, coupled with his being dropped for the team’s season opener spelled the end of his term at the Etihad. So, for the first time in his career, England’s no. 1 man between the posts had to look beyond the borders of his native land in order to salvage his flagging career.
Goodbye Manchester, ciao Torino: A dramatic move
Traditionally, English players tend to stay close to home. In fact, Hart’s signing by Torino was an unprecedented event as the first-ever shot-stopper to move to Italy since Serie A was founded in 1929. The Granata, meanwhile, have a long and glittering history, and were widely regarded as the premier team in Italy back in the 1940’s. However, they haven’t won a Scudetto in decades and since then have moved back and forth between the top two tiers. Last season, they finished in 12th, a solid but not spectacular result, so it is not surprising that some eyebrows were raised when Hart decided that Torino would be where he could regroup and get back on track.
From Torino’s perspective, it was their biggest signing of the summer. Suddenly, people outside Italy were interested in what’s going on at the club, who are currently being managed by Sinisa Mihajlovic, and this, of course, is due to the presence of Hart in their ranks. And despite his struggles with the Three Lions this past summer, Hart is still perceived as a step up from Alfred Gomis and Daniele Padelli, neither of whom impressed their new manager enough to be handed the no. 1 spot.
A steep learning curve at the Stadio Olimpico
Of course, moving to a new league – and new country – is never an easy task. Hart certainly knew the challenges he would face, especially considering that his move would require him to learn not just a new style of play, but naturally, a new language in order to properly communicate with the men in front of him. And despite Serie A being ranked below the Premier League due to inferior coefficient numbers, the 29-year-old surely has found out that the football in the bel paese is not any easier – and neither is the criticism and scrutiny.
Plenty of keepers commit embarrassing errors week in, week out in Serie A. However, it’s only traditionally the “bigger” clubs that garner much notice outside of Italy. That is, until now. Everything that Torino’s new no. 1 man does has been put under a microscope, and in fact Hart receives pretty much as much attention – perhaps even more – in the press than he did whilst at Manchester City. His first few months have not been as smooth sailing as he may have also expected; in fact, his debut was marred by a mishap that allowed Atalanta to equalize in an away game. That match ultimately ended as a 2-1 loss.
He did, however, redeem himself by keeping two consecutive clean sheets. Yes, Torino’s opponents were Pescara and Empoli: the former has yet to win a game actually on the pitch whilst the latter has the worst attack in Serie A. Not exactly the toughest foes. But during the tie with Empoli, Torino had two men sent off, and Hart put in an excellent shift to keep his side in the match with several notable saves.
A shaky start, but will be prove to be a wise investment?
Hart so far has made nine appearances for Torino, including featuring in their recent tie against Udinese. The two clean sheets against Pescara and Empoli remain his only duo of shutouts to date. In total, he has conceded 11 goals, including two in a stalemate with Udinese this past Monday. And he has made some more costly errors, the most notable during their 2-1 loss to Inter that had his manager visibly shaking his head.
So, is his signing a mismatch or a masterstroke? It’s quite difficult to tell. Yes, he has not been 100 per cent steady between the posts, but he has made a total of 28 saves. His performance against Roma, during which he made five saves, played a huge role in Torino securing a shock win over the heavily favored Giallorossi. Some may say, “Yes, but what about the Udinese game? He did concede two goals…” but in all fairness, there was little he could do about those efforts. Furthermore, being regarded as the “Rolls Royce of goalkeepers” by his teammates and fans surely will do wonders for his confidence.
And that is exactly what Torino need as they chase a European football spot.