Celtic’s Joe Hart reflects on banishing “danger, danger” thoughts as sweeper-keeper during pre-season unlike any in memory
Joe Hart can testify to that. Only now, a year on from signing from Tottenham Hotpsur, does the 34-year-old feel sufficiently schooled and practiced in - for him - the new tactic of positioning himself 30 yards from his goal to build the play and operate, essentially, as a third centre-back. Yet, when it comes to his personal status, Hart can’t remember feeling more comfortable than he has across the summer programme Celtic have completed in preparation for beginning their title defence at home to Aberdeen next Sunday. And that doesn’t relate entirely to the keeper becoming a peripheral figure with Manchester City six years ago. A situation that prompted loan spells with Torino and West Ham before moves to Burnley then Spurs. Asked if he felt as comfortable as he had for a long time, the former England international was unequivocal.
“Yeah, definitely. Simple as that,” he said. “As far back as it [goes, nothing] springs out to me. Even when I was set at Manchester City, I was still coming off the back of Euros, World Cups, this and that, coming in with a couple of weeks to prepare. So in terms of knowing where I was going to be, what was required of me and having time to prepare for it, I’d say...I don’t really look back too much. I’ll look back when I’m done. Right now I feel good.”
The assumption is that this should be a recipe for Celtic further driving up standards in the forthcoming campaign. Hart is like the majority of the squad Postecoglou has recruited in that he has enjoyed a first full pre-season with the exacting Australian taskmaster. “Time will tell. In theory, that is beneficial,” he said. “Speaking as a new player from last year, I’ve really enjoyed knowing where I was at the start of the season, being part of our pre-season, going in to do what we are going to do. It’s not an easy system to walk into and it’s going to be easier when the majority of us are a year in and understand what is required. The newer players will see every day what we are doing. Last year we were learning on the spot a little bit. The option [for more to come] is definitely there, but it is down to us. To me, us as individuals, us as a team. The manager constantly references it: Why not make the game you are about to play in your best game you have ever played in. I love that message and I live by that message, so there’s definitely that opportunity, but how it will play out, we will see.”
Learning on the spot for Hart extended to apprehensions he has now surmounted over playing as a sweeper-keeper. “That’s always where he wants his goalie,” Hart said. “I know that, we know that. That’s how he sees football. But he also understands you have to play with the players you have got. I couldn’t just come in and play as high as that as I’d never done it before, so I had to learn and I’m still learning. That’s why I absolutely love being here and playing under the manager. It’s becoming less uncomfortable to be that high. Before, to be that high, I always thought: Danger, danger. But now I understand the reasons why I am there. I am not there for any reason other than to help the team to progress and move forward. I understand the reasons better, so I feel more comfortable.”
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