Joe Hart: ‘Some people probably do think I’m absolutely useless’

After an awkward departure from Manchester City, ambition and a real desire to prove his talent for both Torino and England is still driving the goalkeeper

Late morning at St George’s Park, the autumnal chill having pursued him from northern Italy, and Joe Hart is offering a recap on life to date outside the Premier League bubble. The previous dispatch from Turin had been disconcerting, headlined by a flap at a cross on debut as his new side, Torino, were beaten in Bergamo. That error might have been considered evidence of fragile form, an extension of high-profile traumas at Euro 2016, though it was probably more reflective of recent upheaval. Three weeks on, with basic communication skills established and surroundings already less alien, the upturn has been instigated on the quiet.

There have been victories against Fiorentina and, for the first time in a home fixture since 1990, Roma with Hart smartly denying his former Manchester City team-mate Edin Dzeko a goal at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. “Both fantastic results,” he says. “And, previous to that, we’d gone down to nine men at Pescara and nicked a 0-0 draw. That’s not big news to anyone outside Torino, but it was big for us. We needed it. We brought in a lot of new players this summer, myself included, and a new manager [Sinisa Mihajlovic], so it is going to take time. But we’ve scrapped and the manager feels strongly about what we’re doing. We’re building, we’re together. And I am enjoying it.”

It may be early days but Torino are seventh in Serie A and the goalkeeper they were delighted to secure from Manchester City has been accepted into a new family. The loanee has met with the head of one of Torino’s ultras groups, tantamount to receiving official blessing from the terraces, and had his name bellowed at home games. He has even seen a banner, sent over by members of City’s 1894 Group and depicting his image, unfurled by the club’s most fervent support on the Curva Maratona.

It may still seem odd to hear him bemoan the absence of Cristian Molinaro rather than Vincent Kompany, or gush about the influence of “big players” like Adem Ljajic and Andrea Belotti as opposed to Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero. But this is a player making the best of an awkward situation.

A sense of disappointment at his divorce from City, rushed through as the transfer deadline loomed, clearly lingers. All that talk of Pep Guardiola’s preference for a sweeper-keeper, a ball-playing goalie capable of operating as an auxiliary centre-half, still grates as implied criticism. The recently appointed manager, empowered by City’s long-standing pursuit of his services as well as his glittering reputation, was not convinced Hart could play that role. That curtailed six seasons as first-choice overnight and, while his arrangement in Italy is only for 12 months, the 29-year-old talks like a player who has accepted his time in Manchester, at a club he “cares deeply for”, is probably up.

“Football is a game of opinions: some people have a great opinion of me, others probably think I’m absolutely useless,” he says. “Unfortunately, the opinion of one of the guy’s in charge of my club wasn’t as strong as it needed to be. I don’t know. I have to think selfishly about the whole thing and try to be what I’m capable of being. People will make statements on how things are, and what they are. They might be right. They might be bang on. Some people you struggle to argue with. They’ve got a lot of strong backing to what they say and what they do. But I can only really look after me. I had a situation at City where my playing time was going to be limited, full stop. So I had to look elsewhere. I needed to find someone who thought I could help his team. The move was what it was.

Joe Hart joins his Torino team-mates in celebration after the win over Fiorentina
Joe Hart joins his Torino team-mates in celebration after the win over Fiorentina. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

“It’s not about making brave decisions. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sat there with 25 options, and I wasn’t given much time [to make a decision]. It all happened pretty quickly. But Torino was a really good option for me and it excited me to play in Serie A. Mihajlovic made it clear he did actually want me to play in the team, so that was enough.

“The fit, in the situation I was in, made it a good decision. I was comfortable with it. How this season plays out, and what comes of it all, we’ll see. But I was really grateful for the chance. I’m at Torino now with a huge commitment to the club, a huge commitment to this season, to the culture of the club, to the football, and I’m giving it my all. I don’t know [if City are monitoring his progress]. I’d imagine that, upstairs, they talk a lot, but my focus is playing for Torino and where we finish.”

But is he driven by a desire to change people’s opinion and, as a natural progression, convince Guardiola of his capabilities? “Not really. I’ve got quite a few people who I hold close to my heart, people I trust and whose opinions I care about. But it’s hard to please everyone. I learned quite early that’s never going to happen. Whether I’m right or wrong can be debated but, in terms of changing everyone’s opinions and making everyone think I’m great, you’re not going to win. You can’t win.

“I need to improve all the time because I’m still learning and the game is changing all the time. I love trying to improve – I love that challenge. I want to keep developing until, physically, I can’t do any more.

“So, whether I’m playing Sunday league or playing abroad in Serie A, I’ll look to improve. We’re all striving for perfection, but we’ve all got to be realistic about our goals. I want to be the best given my capabilities and, when I finish a game – win, lose or draw – be comfortable with how I’ve applied myself. Regardless of how I want to play, I need to play to what my team’s strengths are. I’ll do what my manager asks of me.”

Mihajlovic was quickly convinced even if the language was the obvious barrier to making the move an instant success given the level of communication a goalkeeper must enjoy with his backline. He is already au fait with basic on-field parlance, and the lessons will continue to offer a greater understanding.

“Being in the City dressing room, I wasn’t able to talk at the kind of speed I would do normally [given the number of foreign team-mates at the club], so communication is something I’ve been able to do with foreign speaking players in the last eight years,” he says. “Obviously it’s to a different level now. And I’m in Italy, so I need to be bending over backwards rather than expecting people to do that for me. We’re finding ways, and they’re appreciating my efforts.”

The hope is Gareth Southgate and the England setup continue to monitor his progress at club level from afar with a view to retaining him as No1. Euro 2016, where Hart seemed to whip himself up into such a frenzy pre-match that it rendered his own game jittery, was blighted by errors against Wales and Iceland, when goals were shipped where he would normally have summoned saves. His sense of shock at the failure in France was as profound as any of his team-mates.

Joe Hart allows Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s shot squeeze past him in Nice.
Joe Hart allows Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s shot squeeze past him in Nice. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Fraser Forster and, once fully fit after his ankle injury, Jack Butland will challenge for his starting role with the national team. “There’s always been a threat to my place, ever since I was playing under-14s at Shrewsbury Town,” he says. But, for now, life under Southgate is about rekindling a positive mindset and establishing an easily identifiable philosophy, to help exorcise a dismal few months.

“It’s definitely down to us to create an identity of the team, to show what we are trying to be,” adds Hart. “We need an identity to be able to explain why we won, why we lost, why it didn’t go very well. That’s a big thing for me. It’s easier to move on if you know why things have happened. As a group, our intention is always to win. That is a given. But what we also need is a structure and a reasoning, a way of playing and a comfortable way of knowing what we’re doing.

“You can see that in other international and club teams. When Germany were in a dip they were brave, they were strong, and they are [now] world champions. It might also help the country buy into what we are trying to do, if everyone knows what is expected of people.

“Gareth is in charge now. He’s our manager. From what I’ve seen, I am excited to work with him. I don’t think anyone could have planned for what’s happened, but you’ve got to make the best of any situation, and Gareth is very calm, articulate, very clear. He’s clear in what his plans are. So we’ll work together and try and steer ourselves in the right direction. Slovenia will be tough. I played one of their players, Josip Illicic, against Fiorentina and he was a strong player with a good left foot. That will not be easy.”

Nothing about Hart’s season to date has been simple, but at least he is finding his feet.