Joe Hart: The English Exception

With the former England number 1 making a surprise move to Spurs, we take a look at his downfall and what led him to team up with Mourinho.

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As the last days of summer fall away, the Premier League readies itself for its short-awaited return. It has for company such well-worn maxims as “If so and so were foreign” and “But can he do it on a rainy day in Stoke?” By contrast there is little to be said about the English player; very few go abroad, and it is largely considered bad form to talk about their travel troubles in polite circles.

At 6’5, 197lbs, Joe Hart is the biggest (and highest profile) Englishman to play overseas since David Beckham. His signing in mid-August with London based Tottenham Hotspur marked the end of a three-year mid-table journey that included stops at both Burnley and West Ham and Serie A outfit Torino.

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None of these misadventures netted success for the stopper, at least not to the extent to which he had grown accustomed to at Manchester City. His arrival at the Turf Moor in 2018 coincided with a period of newfound optimism at Burnley, who had recently qualified for Europe for the first time. But his participation as a starter was to be cut short after only 19 league games by the recovery of regular goalkeeper Tom Heaton. The previous year spent in Torino had been met with similarly indifferent results; the Serie A side finishing 9th in a season in which he started 36 games. 

To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino’s portrayal of down-and-out coach Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday, “I don’t care if you make mistakes…make them big.” The former England international and Man City mainstay has taken such advice to heart; his unmitigated descent from starter for the national team to out of fashion at Torino punctuated by consistent unforced errors. I vividly remember Joe Hart sprinting off his line to punch a ball outside of his box that was no longer there (having been played back to him by Nastasic). And that was about the same time a crossbar saved him from Andrea Pirlo. So perilous was his time as a keeper in Serie A that the club president made mention of it, saying that they “did not expect so many mistakes from an English international.”

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On £135,000 a week (at least until 2018 when he was signed by Burnley), and fundamentally incapable of meriting his contract: professionally, it’s a hell of a move. Though signing to be the third-choice goalkeeper for Tottenham Hotspur – probably also a mistake – certainly represents the end for him internationally on a club and national level. With talk of MLS or another move abroad making way for a switch to Mourinho’s Spurs, Hart will surely see himself behind Lloris and Gazzaniga.

Despite the transfer looking fair on paper, this is yet another missed opportunity for Hart to regain his form with regular first-team minutes.  On the other hand, it’s good to see the Shrewsbury-born keeper back at a club fighting for the European spots.


Three replacements for Jack Grealish at a Championship Aston Villa

Despite a double from Trézéguet securing three points for the Villans over the weekend, Dean Smith’s men are still struggling to escape the grasp of relegation.

The Midlands giants sit in 19th place, four points from safety, at the time of writing and are yet to face Everton, Arsenal and West Ham United.

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Relegation to the Championship can be detrimental for top-flight clubs trying to keep a team together and often results in them losing their star players.

For Aston Villa, not only are they facing their prospect of losing their star player. He is also their captain, hero and one of few Villa players to rise from their academy.

As Jack Grealish persists to be linked with the giants of English football, here are three players Villa could buy to replace him if they go down.

Eberechi Eze | 22 | Queens Park Rangers | England

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QPR midfielder Eberechi Eze is one of the brightest talents coming out of the Championship right now. The Londoner joined the club from Millwall as a teenager and began to establish himself in the first team before he turned 20.

Eze, who plays for England’s U21s, has a similar playing style to Grealish but exceeds the Villa man when it comes to goals and assists. The QPR star has scored 12 and assisted eight goals this term, becoming his side’s talisman in the process. Grealish managed six goals and six assists in his last Championship season when Villa were promoted.

Eberechi Eze has the ability to glide past defenders and give the impression the ball is stuck to his feet, much like Grealish. He also has an eye for a pass, completing 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes this season. He also completes three dribbles per game – almost double what Grealish put up in 18/19.

Villa would have to put a fight to fend off Premier League rivals for Eze’s signature should they move for him in the window. However, he knows the division and would be easily adaptable to a free-flowing Championship Villa side.

Arnór Sigurðsson | 21 | CSKA Moscow | Iceland

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A lesser-known star with similar attributes to Jack Grealish is 21-year-old Iceland midfielder Arnór Sigurðsson. The youngster, who joined the Russians from Norrköping in Sweden, dreams of playing for Arsenal so the Birmingham club may be a great stepping stone.

The Icelandic attacker is great at breaking through defences and getting out of tight spaces. Despite having no English football experience, these traits should help him adapt to a fast-paced, physical Championship.

Sigurðsson has also scored four goals and assisted twice but is always involved in build-up play and knows when to make a pass and when to take a bold shot from outside the box.

Sigurðsson is a greater risk than Eze but may prove a cheaper option and Dean Smith has a reputation to squeezing quality out of cheaper players from his time at Brentford. It is clear that Villa’s excessive spending hasn’t seen results improve this season, so building a team with more structure on a smaller budget could be key.

Bradley Dack | 26 | Blackburn Rovers | England

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A safe and experienced option to fill the void left by Grealish would be Blackburn talisman Bradley Dack. The 26-year-old Londoner, who joined Rovers from Gillingham in 2017, excels in a free role behind a strike partnership or loan striker.

He is blessed with impeccable timing, often breaking into the box late to get on the end of a pass. He is also renowned for scoring from distance and, not only that, racking up a remarkable 33 goals in his first two seasons in Lancashire.

The Englishman suffered an ACL injury in December and is set to be ruled out for the remainder of the campaign. However, when he returns to full fitness, Dean Smith could pounce on the midfielder who could be Villa’s star man (and a much needed source of goals) in the second tier.


Wigan Athletic’s 2013 FA Cup winners: Where are they now?

Just seven years after their famous FA Cup final win over Manchester City, Wigan Athletic have gone into administration.

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The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the club’s finances and they are desperately looking for new buyers. They are currently fighting in a relegation battle in the Championship and Wigan fans can only hope that the situation will not worsen by having to play in League One next season.

This Wigan side is in an awful situation and the club faces a difficult road to ensure it has a future. With this current situation in mind, we take a look at the FA Cup-winning Wigan side and see where they are now.

GK: Joel Robles

The man who started in goal and kept a clean sheet for Wigan was on loan from Atlético Madrid in 2013. He played nine times for the club with his most important performance earning him a FA Cup winners medal. Joel Robles followed his Wigan manager Roberto Martinez to Everton in 2013 where he made 42 appearances over five seasons. He later joined Real Betis in 2018 where he is currently plying his trade as their No.1. They currently sit 14th in La Liga and look likely to stay in a mid-table position come the end of the season.

RB: Emmerson Boyce

Wigan’s captain on that day played in his usual position at right-back. He led them to a FA Cup win and lifted the cup with non-playing club captain Gary Caldwell. That day at Wembley was definitely the highlight of the Bajan’s (below) nine seasons with the club and, after 263 appearances, he left in 2015 on a free transfer to Blackpool. In 2016 he retired from football and re-joined Wigan as an academy coach where he still is to this day.

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CB: Paul Scharner

The first of Wigan’s centre backs on that day was also a loanee from overseas. Paul Scharner (below) came back to Wigan on loan from Hamburger SV in 2013. He had previously been at Wigan from 2006 to 2010 making 145 appearances and scored 14 times for the club. He returned in January 2013 going on to make 14 further appearances for the club. The Austrian retired later that year in September.

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CB: Antolín Alcaraz

The Paraguayan was Wigan’s other centre back on that day. His FA Cup-winning season was his last for the club. He had spent 3 seasons with the club before leaving for Everton just like Joel Robles in 2013. He spent 2 seasons with the Toffees before moving to Spain with Las Palmas for a year before moving back to Paraguay. In 2016, he joined Libertad for another 2 seasons. Now the 37-year-old plays for the record Paraguayan champions Olimpia where he has played with Emmanuel Adebayor.

LB: Roger Espinoza

Roger Espinoza completed the backline for Wigan on that day, playing at left-back. He joined the Latics in 2013 from Sporting Kansas City. Espinoza made 43 appearances for the club before returning to Kansas City ahead of the 2015 season. The Honduran had an unsuccessful loan spell at Swope Park Rangers in 2019, making just one appearance before returning to Kansas City for the second time.

CM: James McCarthy

Now we move to the midfield where we find Irishman James McCarthy (below). The Glasgow-born star played 120 times for Wigan before following the popular route to Everton along with his manager in 2013. He spent six years on Merseyside, making 108 appearances for them. He later moved to London in 2019 and joined Crystal Palace where he currently plays under Roy Hodgson.

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CM: James McArthur

James McArthur played alongside McCarthy in central midfield on that day. The Scotsman played a vital role in midfield for Wigan over his four years at the club. Strangely, McArthur’s career has mirrored that of similarly named McCarthy many times. Both kicked off their careers at Hamilton Academical and both now play for Crystal Palace.

He left Wigan in 2014 having made 129 appearances.

CM: Jordi Gómez

The Barcelona youth product completed Wigan’s midfield trio on that day. He was the only player in the starting 11 to not complete the full 90 minutes, having been substituted for Ben Watson after 81 minutes. He later left Wigan in 2014 moving around England to Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers for one-year spells  at each club. He returned to Wigan in 2016 before moving back to Spain in 2017. Now he plays for the Cypriot side AC Omonia.

RW: Callum McManaman

The Wigan academy graduate (below) was the club’s Man Of The Match on that day, giving arguably his best performance in a Wigan shirt at Wembley.  The Englishman spent eight years at Wigan from 2007 to 2015. He joined West Brom then Sunderland with a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in between, before returning to Wigan for a second spell in 2018. The second spell just lasted for a year and in 2019 he joined Luton Town where he currently plays.

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ST: Arouna Kone

The Ivorian international (below) started as Wigan’s No.9 at Wembley. Arouna played just a single season at Wigan but ended up with a FA Cup winners’ medal. The striker was among the four others from Wigan’s side that day to join Everton with his manager at the start of the 2013-14 season. He spent four years with Everton before moving to the Turkish side Sivasspor, where he still plays.

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LW: Shaun Maloney

The man who took the famous free kick at Wembley to win the FA Cup (below) completes the starting XI. That corner was his most important contribution in his four years at the club. He joined Chicago Fire in 2015. He was in Chicago for just eight months, before moving back to England with Hull City where he played till his retirement in 2017. The former Celtic and Villa man is now employed as the assistant coach of Roberto Martinez for the Belgian National Team, his former manager from his time at Wigan.

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Three replacements for Leroy Sané at Man City

As Guardiola faces up to the prospect of losing the German, who could join to revamp City’s front line?

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With Leroy Sané set to quit Manchester City at the end of this season, Pep Guardiola will be eager to bring in a replacement. The German has struggled to maintain his consistency in recent times due to persistent injuries. However, permanently losing the Bayern Munich target could damage City’s hopes of mounting a title challenge next season.

Youngsters such as Jayden Braaf and Morgan Rogers may make the step up from City’s youth sides. However, Guardiola will surely be keen to replace Sané with an established star.

Many have suggested Dortmund prodigy Jadon Sancho could return to the Etihad, but here are three alternative recommendations for the Citizens.

Ferrán Torres | 20 | Valencia | Spain

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With Sterling, Mahrez and Bernardo Silva on his roster, Pep Guardiola could use this opportunity to nurture a young, prodigious talent with a view to making him a long-term regular starter.

The Valencian is a nimble and versatile attacker who usually plies his trade on the right wing but can deputise on the left, cutting inside to feed the striker or take on a shot himself. The 20-year-old has scored four goals this season, exceeding his xG (expected goals) of 3.2 in 2019/20.

Torres stands at 6ft, relatively tall for a winger and so would be more than capable of facing notoriously physical Premier League opposition. He also wins 1.1 aerial duels per game – yet another string to his bow.

Despite his youth, Torres was also crucial in Valencia’s Champions League run as they topped their group, beating Chelsea, Lille and Ajax in the process. He scored twice in the competition which saw Celades’ side knocked out by Atalanta in the Round of 16.

As a spritely, young and adaptable Spaniard, the Valencia star fits Manchester City’s criteria and would join a squad featuring countrymen Rodri, Eric Garcia and Adrián Bernabé.

According to TransferMarkt, Torres is valued at around £40.5m and, with his contract up next summer, the Citizens should pounce on a potential bargain.

Justin Kluivert | 21 | A.S. Roma | Netherlands

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This may seem a strange suggestion with some of Kluivert’s key numbers appearing to have trailed off somewhat this term.

However, the young Dutchman, son of the legendary Patrick, has all the signs of a player who could bounce back and realise his potential.

Justin Kluivert’s 83.4% pass accuracy trumps Torres’ – albeit in fewer minutes. He also makes almost two shots per game and, with the likes of Aguero, Jesus, Sterling and De Bruyne with him in attack, he may not need to hugely improve his shot accuracy to succeed in England.

Like Torres, he is rapid and agile but, unlike him, he is diminutive at just 5ft7. However, the Roma star’s ability to get out of tight situations in compact defences have seen him emerge as a major Arsenal target this summer too. 

Additionally, he has scored three in Roma’s Europa League campaign. I Giallorossi escaped the group in second, beat Gent in the Round of 32 and were set to face Sevilla before coronavirus caused the postponement of the contest.

Kluivert was schooled at Ajax’s fruitful academy; a club closely linked with Guardiola’s former side Barcelona and so the winger will know exactly how to play in a high-pressing, entertaining Pep system. 

If any manager can nudge Kluivert towards achieving his potential, it’s surely Pep.

Dominik Szoboszlai | 19 | Red Bull Salzburg | Hungary

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Arguably the most unproven of this trio, Salzburg teen Dominik Szoboszlai could burgeon into a world-class winger at Manchester City.

The young Hungarian could be compared to a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo in a number of ways. He stands at a similar 6ft1 and his running style could be mistaken for the Portuguese star’s at a glance. 

Usually playing on the left and cutting across to shoot or pass, Szoboszlai has also played in a more central role, meaning he could also make the loss of veteran David Silva slightly simpler to handle.

The teenager has scored six and assisted nine this season under Jesse Marsch in Austria and his technical abilities have turned heads across Europe. 

He has just under two years left on his deal at the Red Bull Arena and is set to cost between £20m and £30m – a snip if Sané switches to a new side.

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