Joe Hart felt Celtic chance had gone as he opens up on Steven Gerrard relationship and being written off
An endearingly boyish enthusiasm is betrayed by Joe Hart in the manner he gushes over becoming a Celtic player.
“I feel really privileged, I feel very excited and feel very proud to wear the Celtic badge – even just sitting here just now with the club tracksuit on,” said the 34-year-old, 75-times capped Englishman. “I’ve not even managed to wear the jersey on the pitch yet. But, I tell you, I’m proud and excited about what’s to come.”
It seems certain that, even if it will be on the back of a solitary training session subsequent to his £1m move from Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, the former England keeper will be handed his first opportunity to don the club’s colours in Thursday’s Europa League third round qualifying first leg away to Czech side FK Jablonec. Yet, the two-times English title winner with Manchester City confesses he was convinced the possibility of the adventure on which he is now about to embark had conclusively evaporated last summer. Neil Lennon then wanted the keeper, one of the highest-profile exponents of his trade in the British game across the past decade. Hart had by that stage fallen out of favour at Burnley. However, the Parkhead club ultimately, and ill-fatedly, turned to Vasilis Barkas following the collapse of a deal to retain loanee Fraser Forster, and he ended up at White Hart Lane.
“I did think [the chance to play for Celtic had gone then], if you want me to be honest,” Hart said. “It was something I was very keen on, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. But you can’t predict football and there’s absolutely no point in trying to. You can’t take things too personally when you get a knockback because you could have exactly the same club with someone else in charge and a different opinion and different vision seeing something else in you. It’s a game of opinions. And right now the opinion was to bring me in – and my opinion was I wanted to come.”
Hart’s opinion of Steven Gerrard won’t be altered now that the two former England team-mates are on opposite sides of a Glasgow divide lathered in sensitivities and toxicity. He demonstrates a nimbleness in dancing round these facets that drip to the fore courtesy of Gerrard’s presence in the technical area for champions Rangers. Asked if there had been any welcome message from Gerrard, who in 2012 described Hart as on his way to becoming “the best keeper in the world”, Celtic’s new arrival said: “I’ve not had anything yet. Steven’s fully focused on his business. There’s obviously an awful lot of respect there, and a friendship there, but when it comes to it he’s going to be pulling for his team and I’m certainly going to be pulling for mine.”
The pull for Hart’s career since he was discarded by Pep Guardiola five years ago at City has been downwards. Many have posited that he is in a decline impossible to arrest. He made 10 starts - all in Europe - for Spurs last season, following only three games in his second campaign at Turf Moor.
“I think there was at one point in my life that would’ve really itched at me and frustrated me,” he said. “But, I’ve quickly matured and realised you’re never going to please everyone. It’s impossible. An awful lot of opinions aren’t backed with facts in football. I’ve homed in on people who matter: coaching staff, players around me, and my family. Their opinions on how they think I’m going about things matter more to me than anyone else. I’ve had some serious looks in the mirror over how I’m going to go about things and how I’m going to work on myself as a goalkeeper and I feel comfortable. I really do. I want to do well for myself, my team and my family. That’s my burning desire.”
It’s not about Celtic goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods rehabilitating his career as he did with Craig Gordon and friend and former international team-mate Fraser Forster - whose sparkling season on loan across the club’s nine-in-a-row title winning campaign of 2019-20 was instructive to Hart in showing him that while “you can be anywhere on the planet, when you’re playing well and you’ve a good relationship with the fans, there aren’t many better places than Celtic.”
“We kind of discussed it last night [about what Stevie could do for me because of his work with Gordon and Forster] and we discussed this whole kind of getting back to something. We [then] agreed it was a waste of time,” Hart said. “We’re going to work together, I’m going to work with the goalkeepers that are here, and I’m going to try to get to the best level possible. The past is the past. And if I want to reference it in a good way then, obviously, I’ve had highs. If I want to reference it in a bad way, then there have been lows. But there’s only a desire to move forward right now and make me the best goalkeeper I can be. That’s the plan.”
That too is clearly Ange Postecolgou’s long-term plan with eye-brows raised at Hart being handed a three-year deal and bought for a £1m fee… a year after he was a free transfer to White Hart Lane. The keeper doesn’t make light of these endorsements. “It is a lot of faith in me and it means everything,” he said. “I’m not sure about the reported fee, I don’t know how true that is. That’s not for me to get involved in. But just the fact Celtic wanted me here is good enough. A three-year contract at my age, I’d like to think they’ve done their research on me and they feel comfortable I’m going to be able to perform for at least those years. All that’s down to now is me repaying that faith.”
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