The Manchester City Twittersphere has never really been a particularly divisive place. Most fans agreed that Manuel Pellegrini needed to go, that Aleksandar Kolarov was a travesty last season and that Pablo Zabaleta is the closest resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. In recent weeks however, the Joe Hart fiasco has completely divided social media into an almost 50-50 split. One half of the fanbase (including myself) is suggesting that Hart’s distribution and style of play will not compute with Pep Guardiola’s ‘play out of the back at all costs’ type philosophy. The other half are not focusing on the system, and believe Pep Guardiola should stick with Hart because he is a good shot-stopper who has come to embody the heart and soul of Manchester City. Whilst this holds merit, it’s difficult to run a team on sentimentality and these sorts of decisions should not cloud the judgement of decision-makers such as Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain.
What must be noted is that Pep Guardiola is trying to ‘revolutionise’ Manchester City as opposed to Manuel Pellegrini who simply tried to evolve City slightly – the narrow 4-4-2 system he often used was also preferred by Roberto Mancini during his time in charge. For Guardiola, revolution is the main goal wherever he goes and his appointment is a pivotal moment in the history of the Premier League. When he arrived in Germany, they were already in the midst of a tactical revolution led by Jürgen Klopp whilst the methods of older heads such as Felix Magath and Ottmar Hitzfeld were being left in the past. Less emphasis was being placed on defensive compactness and fitness training and there was more of an emphasis on tactics and playing out of the back. Guardiola helped cement this, the line and style changed drastically under him and Franz Beckenbauer himself said that the ‘foundations’ of FC Bayern Munich improved greatly under Pep.
The English game is in need of new ideas. The tactical side of the game has been poor for a fair few years now and the constant disappointments in the Champions League nearly cost the Premier League the fourth Champions League spot. Joe Hart’s looming departure from the club is proof that Pep wants to revolutionise Manchester City and by doing this, he will benefit English football.
Playing out of the back is a major cornerstone and of Guardiola’s system and it is something that many English teams fail to do. More often than not, English teams launch goal kicks up field to the tallest player in the attacking third, and this would explain why the highest pass accuracy of a goalkeeper last season was Simon Mignolet with 60%. In terms of the entire Premier League, Joe Hart’s pass accuracy of 52% isn’t actually that terrible, but it won’t be good enough for Guardiola’s style. Playing out of the back is more of a thing in Spain – 12 of the 21 goalkeepers who played more than 16 games had a higher pass accuracy than Joe Hart and the ones that didn’t all came from poor sides barring Jan Oblak and Alphonse Areola. Gary Neville reiterated on Monday Night Football that goalkeeping training sessions are very different in Spain, saying that they got involved with the passing drills and were often pressed by their teammates in order to improve their composure and decision making.
Sadly for Joe Hart, he has not received this type of education and it is too late in his career to be able to ‘teach’ him how to distribute the ball in the style of Claudio Bravo or Manuel Neuer. He simply doesn’t have the composure or the consistent ability to play passes through the lines or to start counter attacks. If Guardiola wants to revolutionise, then he cannot afford to put square pegs in round holes in important areas on the pitch, Joe Hart will never fit his style and because of this, his departure makes perfect sense. Below you can see courtesy of a graphic from Twitter user @PepStats that he just doesn’t fit what Pep will want to do.
It has to be made clear that no one is happy to see him go. He has been an integral part of this clubs history since he replaced Shay Given in 2010 and started his reign with a clean sheet at White Hart Lane in what was a very memorable goalkeeping performance. He loves the club, has always been brutally honest about defeats and has shown a good amount of professionalism whenever the manager has been under pressure. But you simply can’t keep a guy in the squad because he ‘shows passion’ and is a nice person off the pitch, especially if they don’t represent the philosophy of the manager.
One of the strangest notions that has come from this fiasco is the idea that when Joe Hart leaves, a part of the soul of the club will die. This idea is not only short-sighted, but completely wrong. Players come and go all the time whether they are well liked by the fans or not. The soul of the club didn’t die when Mike Doyle, Uwe Rösler, Shaun Goater or Richard Dunne left the club, so there is no reason to believe Joe Hart’s departure will change anything in that way. The so called ‘soul’ of the club is hard to define, but it comes from the fans and the effort levels of the team on the pitch. It comes from the local businesses in the surrounding areas that sell chips and pints on a match day, and it comes from fans such as myself who were almost forced into supporting City from an early age. The idea that any part of the clubs identity will go when Hart goes is absolutely ridiculous.
We have a generational manager who will do things that no one ever thought was possible in this country. He will invent new ways of playing and everyone who comes to this club will become better players because of it. The on-field product will be amazing, it will be a joy to watch, and fans of most of the other 91 Football League clubs will envy us for having Guardiola. It isn’t productive to get on his back for selling a guy who has been on the decline for the last three years and doesn’t actually fit his system in any way. Hart will be remembered as a City cult hero in some ways, but his time at the club is almost certainly over.