Joe Hart may be Torino's No 1 problem but fans will still be sorry to see him go

James Horncastle
The Independent
Joe Hart has enjoyed an up and down season but still has Torino's fans onside: Getty
Joe Hart has enjoyed an up and down season but still has Torino's fans onside: Getty

When a goalkeeper comes for a cross and doesn’t claim the ball, the Italians like to think he looks like a butterfly catcher. To Gigi Garanzini, La Stampa’s veteran columnist, that’s exactly what Joe Hart resembled when Crotone whipped a short corner in toward the far post at the Stadio Grande Torino last Saturday afternoon. Hart missed the ball and, losing his balance, fell to the ground, allowing Simy Nwankwo to prod the ball into an empty net from Andrea Nalini’s knock down, levelling the score.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Sinisa Mihajlovic said afterwards. “It’s just when goalkeepers make them you always notice them more.” The irascible Serb lamented how “we continue to concede absurd goals” but rather than lay the blame for dropping two points squarely on Hart’s shoulders, he instead chose to point the finger at Torino’s uncharacteristically profligate attack. “What with our own mistakes in front of goal and the saves of their `keeper, we missed 10 or 12 chances.”

Not everybody shared in Mihajlovic’s balanced assessment though. Garanzini, for instance, didn’t pull any punches, writing that: “Whoever takes [Hart’s] place between the posts[next season], will be welcome, even if it were his non-imperforable predecessor, [Daniele] Padelli.” For the uninitiated, here’s a primer in Padelli. Frequently the stand-in’s back-up when Antonio Conte managed Italy, he lost his place in the Torino squad last summer after an attempt to play out from the back against Empoli ended with him passing the ball into his own net.

lt seemed a touch over the top and besides that mistake didn’t appear to shake Mihajlovic’s confidence in Hart. On the contrary he reiterated his wish that Manchester City will agree to loan the England international back to Torino for another year next season. It’s a line the club has seldom strayed from since Hart joined, and Torino owner Urbano Cairo is no exception. But for all the affection he has for Hart, he did less of a good job at hiding his frustration than Mihajlovic at the weekend. “I love Joe,” he said, “He’s a great guy. But we’ve conceded that type of goal three times already.” Cairo isn’t lying either. It happened against Atalanta in January and against Inter in March, and on each occasion, just like against Crotone, the goals - practically carbon copies of each other - were the difference between a Torino win and a Torino draw.

Hart has endured a difficult season in Italy (Getty)
Hart has endured a difficult season in Italy (Getty)

Cairo has suggested at the weekend that as speculation about Hart’s future has intensified so have the mistakes. “Leave him in peace,” he pleaded. But it was too late. The horse has bolted and by highlighting Hart’s other errors, Torino's goalkeeper became the story rather than their striker Andrea Belotti, whose goal on Saturday meant he became only the fifth Italian since 1962 to score 25 goals in a season. It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. Belotti scoring goals just isn’t news anymore and, although il Gallo looks set for the most prolific season of all-time by a Torino striker, the Opta stat that really got people talking was the one about Hart making the second most errors leading to goals among goalkeepers in Serie A [5] this season.

Musing on what Torino’s number one problem is at the moment, La Stampa recently settled on “the No.1.” In fairness to Hart, he does not enjoy the protection one might reasonably expect in Italy and if the bottom three in Serie A are the only teams with a worse defence than Torino, who haven’t kept a clean sheet in 14 games, it is not all his fault. Not everyone shares Belotti’s spirit of sacrifice. Wingers like Adem Ljajic are not known for tracking back. And the backline isn’t the same without centre-back Leandro Castan. As Torino’s chances of qualifying for Europe have diminished, attention has turned to helping Belotti finish the season as Capocannoniere. Mihajlovic has also set the team the goal of out-scoring rivals Juventus as they’re unlikely to beat them when they visit the J Stadium in 10 days time. An unbalanced team is doubling down on its attack and Hart is exposed.

The flip side to that, of course, is he has more opportunities to shine. But if there's one goalkeeper on loan to a Serie A club from a Premier League counterpart who is doing that at the moment it's Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole is enjoying the best season of his career. Torino don't have any regrets, though. They're happy to take credit for pulling off an unlikely transfer coup, which began when Emiliano Viviano decided to stay at Samp rather than opt for a reunion with Mihajlovic. It was Viviano's agent Claudio Vigorelli who recommended they get in touch with Hart's people.

The Torino fans remain behind Hart (Getty)
The Torino fans remain behind Hart (Getty)

Hart remains a fan favourite. Torino broke their transfer record to sign Ljajic from Roma in the summer but it was the novelty of an English goalkeeper choosing to play in Italy for the first time since 1930 that really captured the imagination and still does.

The crowds that came out to greet him in August were the biggest for a new Torino signing since Martín Vazquez joined from Real Madrid in 1990 and the enthusiasm hasn’t waned. A group of Torino supporters were behind Hart’s goal at Wembley, calling his name, when England played Scotland in November, and more than 500 gathered at the Kappa store in via Lagrange last month for a chance to meet Hart. A visit to the Grande Torino memorial at Superga a fortnight ago and his willingness to speak a little Italian and read up on the club’s history have been a big part of why banners like those saying “Kamoooon Joe, stay with us,” keep appearing at Torino’s home games.

Con Rispetto, onorando la memoria del Grande Torino #forzaroro.

A post shared by Joe Hart (@joehartofficial) on Mar 30, 2017 at 1:30pm PDT

The biggest sign that he won’t be around next season however came on February 1 when Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, the Under-20 World Cup winning goalkeeper and brother of Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, arrived from Lechia Gdansk. Dubbed the “Serbian Donnarumma” by Mihajlovic, he isn’t eligible to play until next season but Torino brought the move forward after Lechia reacted to the move by freezing him out and he is currently training with the reserves.

Hart remains a popular figure with Torino fans (Getty)
Hart remains a popular figure with Torino fans (Getty)

Reports of an agreement with Roma for the excellent Lukasz Skorupski, currently on loan at Empoli, also refuse to go away and wouldn’t come as a surprise given the amount of business the two clubs have done together in the last year. For all Torino’s posturing about keeping Hart, the economics have always been against them. City’s valuation is approximately double their club record transfer fee and his wages are on a par with Gigi Buffon’s.

The fans will be sad to see him go. On the pitch, he’s had his ups and downs but it’s fair to say he’s been better than the last Joe to wear Granata. Joe Baker was a hero in the derby, scoring the winner against Juventus in 1961, but his short time at the club was quite literally a car crash. He was sold to Arsenal after smashing his Alfa Romeo into the statue of Garibaldi on via Cairoli at four in the morning.

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes