Joe Hart laid into his teammates following Tuesday’s loss to Real Madrid, and the Manchester City goalkeeper had every right to do so.
In fact, it would have been surprising had someone else said what Hart said, for he, perhaps more than anyone on his team, is a product and symbol of Manchester City’s confidence generation.
Visiting City twice led Real Madrid in that enthralling second half of their UEFA Champions League clash. Real Madrid tied the score both times.
City could have become just the third English club to beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. But it heads back to Manchester empty handed because Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 90th-minute goal that sent the home fans into ecstacy and Jose Mourinho sliding across the grass in an expensive suit.
Hart voiced his displeasure moments after the game ended, according to the BBC.
“We dug deep, got a lead twice and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves,” Hart reportedly told ITV. “It’s hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive. I’m really sorry.
“We’re not a team that should come here and pat ourselves on the back for doing well. We’re a team that gets results.”
One has to think Hart was speaking to himself and his teammates in equal measure. After all, he will fault himself for not saving Ronaldo’s game-winning shot. The England international was routinely spectacular for most of the game, but Ronaldo beat him with a shot that he would normally save.
The crux of Hart’s message is spot on. City’s lighting-quick evolution into a championship team has already reaped league and cup trophies on the domestic front. Expectations have risen to the point where Mourinho and the rest of the free world wonders “when” not “if” City will conquer Europe.
Even great teams are entitlted to a few off days — games where they’re not at their peak — but the best teams manage to get results that their performances may not merit. Real Madrid was better than City in terms of possession, territory and menace for most of Tuesday’s contest, but City took unexpected leads in the 68th and 85th minutes.
We’ll forgive City for conceding once (Marcelo’s curling effort in the 76th minute) against an increasingly rampant Real Madrid. That could happen to Bernabeu visitors when there are more than 20 mintues left to play. But Hart, his teammates and City fans should all expect the Premier League champions to finish off Real Madrid, or any other opponent, when leading with five minutes left to play. That is no unreasonable demand.
When a 19-year-old Hart joined City from Shrewsbury Town in 2006, he was a future England international joining a club seeking a permanent place in the top flight. Within five years, he lifted the FA Cup as City and England’s undisputed No. 1. Hart is now among the world’s very best goalkeepers, who plays for one of the world’s richest and most ambitious clubs.
Had a talent like Hart come along 10 years earlier, he would probably hope to play for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United in order to challenge for trophies. Hart will probably stay for another 15 years and retire with City, as it leads the English pack in resources, ambition and, once the City Football Academy complex is completed in 2014, infrastructure.
Top players at top clubs criticize each other. That comes with the territory. Most of the time, it happens behind closed doors, as stars lob what Gigi Buffon calls verbal “missles” at teammates and coaches in the locker room. Criticism can go public too, which is par for the course at “FC Hollywood” (better known as Bayern Munich).
City manager Roberto Mancini dismissed Hart’s criticism in his postgame news conference, queuing up the musical opening of a soap opera.
“Joe Hart should stay in goal and make saves,” Mancini said. “If anyone should criticise the team it should be me, not Joe Hart. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
But this won’t lead to a soap opera. Hart, Mancini and other City players know this. As far as drama goes, this isn’t even in the same species as last season’s saga’s with Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. This was Mancini’s way of brushing it aside and moving on to the next thought.
City has morphed into a super-club, and its players are playing their roles. Hart has set high standards for himself and his teammates. When he sees them slipping, he’ll let it be known privately, publicly or both. That’s how top players at top clubs behave. Any future England (and foreign) internationals that emerge from the City camp should expect to give and receive the same treatment.
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