Once an emblematic figurehead of Manchester City’s rise to the summit of English football, Joe Hart found himself suddenly and very publicly demoted when City’s new manager Pep Guardiola took over in the summer. “I did not have a lot options,” Hart said. He could remain at City as an understudy to the arriving Claudio Bravo. Or he could try something different.
A first for Serie A
The most attractive of his offers came from Italy. Torino, ambitious to challenge for a European qualifying position, suggested taking Hart, who turns 30, on a year-long loan. In September, he became the first English goalkeeper to appear in Italy’s top division.
Mihajlovic the bold
For Torino’s manager, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Guardiola’s declaration that Hart did not meet his desire for a keeper with precise passing ability with his feet seemed unimportant. He liked Hart’s shot-stopping and natural authority. The Serbian coach is making a habit of bold decisions with goalkeepers. Last season, while he was in charge at AC Milan, Mihajlovic promoted 16-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma to the first team. Donnarumma has made the spot his own.
Hart, a Premier League winner twice with City and still England’s first-choice keeper, with 67 caps, made his first appearance away at Atalanta, a defeat in which a fumbled failure to catch a high ball contributed to a defeat. But successive clean sheets followed and some excellent saves in a win over Roma began a fine run of form for keeper and team. Torino sat seventh in the table going into this weekend.
Gigi and Joe
And this weekend, for Torino fans, is the big weekend of the domestic season so far. They meet Juventus, city rivals, reigning champions and Serie A pacesetters. The respective goalkeepers go back. Juve captain Gigi Buffon has spoken of his admiration for Hart. Hart has named Buffon as a role model. The enduring Italian No 1, who has 100 more caps than his English counterpart, was the victor when the two were involved a penalty shoot-out for a place in the semi-final of Euro 2012. They were on opposite sides last season when Juve twice beat Hart’s City in the Uefa Champions League group phase.
No question about the favourites tomorrow. Juventus have won all but one of their last 10 meetings with their neighbours. And – Hart take heed – no Torino goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet in the derby since February 2008.
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