When Joe Hart secured his loan move to Birmingham City, it was met with pleasantry and scepticism. For many, the signing showed a fundamental lack of understanding on McLeish’s behalf of the need to have players that can deal with the strenuous nature that the Premier League necessitates. Along with Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, Hart was seen as a good, young player that although talented, would not be enough to keep Birmingham from relegation. Having coped admirably as Manchester City’s number one in the first half of the 2008/09 campaign, Hart found himself on the periphery of the Manchester clubs squad after the arrival of Shay Given.
Birmingham were his ultimate destination and have seemed like his natural suitors ever since. Hart has become a new goalkeeper at Birmingham; whilst Manchester City (and Shrewsbury Town) nurtured Hart from a young age, Birmingham are the club responsible for giving Hart his big opportunity. Of course, Hart had to take that chance and succeed but as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. With Shay Given arriving at City, Hart needed a new club. With Birmingham having only Maik Taylor as a feasible option in goal, they needed Hart. Sadly, the partnership between club and player seems to be at an end with City reluctant to allow Hart out on a second loan period. But, his time at the club will be looked upon with fondness.
His opening game came against Manchester United – having conceded one goal, Hart’s life at Birmingham continued to start inauspiciously. A multitude of mistakes occurred soon after and coupled with a contract clause omitting him from the match against Manchester City, Hart’s place as number one seemed to be under threat. Now, in hindsight, it would have been disastrous had McLeish chosen the veteran Taylor over Hart but it was an extremely likely possibility at one stage. However, faith and nous prevailed and Hart regained his spot – then, the team embarked upon the now legendary and record-breaking fifteen game unbeaten streak. Hart, along with the rest of the defence, was a key facet of that run and has been lauded ever since. Indeed, at one point in the season it was intimated that he should be England’s number one for the World Cup.
As time has progressed, those rumours have waned somewhat but Hart remains a certainty to be on the plane to South Africa. A look at his statistics show that he is warranting of such a place: Hart has kept 12 clean sheets, only conceded 40 goals and just 13 of those came at St.Andrew’s. For that, Birmingham should be eternally grateful. Had it not been for Hart, the club would not have been able to sustain such a high league table position. The attack is not potent enough to support the defence. At Birmingham, it is the other way round and without Hart, next season may be a struggle should appropriate measures not be taken.
Hart’s reward for such great form seems massive. England squad selection for the World Cup is imminent and Hart looks a shoo-in to be a member of the preliminary 30 man squad (and eventually, the 23 going to South Africa). As well as this national honour, Hart was put into the PFA team of the year. He is in esteemed company. Past winners include Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman, Neville Southall, Shay Given, Brad Friedel and Edwin Van der Sar. Should Hart replicate the career of any of those men then Birmingham can say that they have been the catalyst for a great goalkeeper’s career. Hart’s loss will not be felt until he is officially gone but that hurt will remain. Ben Foster has been touted as a possible replacement but he will need to go some way to convincing the St.Andrew’s faithful that he is a worthy man for Hart’s job. Indeed, he will have to go some way to being half the player that has been this season. Joe Hart will be leaving Birmingham City on the 10th of May and Birmingham City will be a poorer club for it.