Nobody will have wanted to be England’s World Cup hero more than Joe Hart this summer. That’s the saddest part of his omission from England’s squad for Russia 2018.
It’s understandable that he’d see this as a shot at redemption, to make up for Iceland and Wales, to show Pirlo, to prove Pep wrong ... to prove us all wrong.
It’s possible he thinks a place in the squad is the least he deserves after helping the side through qualification.
If we put ourselves in his shoes and be truly honest with ourselves, we’d all expect some kind of loyalty, some kind of reward for that. To be a main component in the side that took us to Russia must count for something, surely?
It seems not. If he didn’t know already, and he probably did, football moves on at a terrific pace.
Not that he will find himself drowning in consolation. Joe doesn’t garner that kind of response from English football’s general public.
Joe’s character isn’t to everyone’s taste and the reason why forgiveness for previous errors is forever in short supply. More popular, more likeable keepers are given a longer leash when they make errors. Even I admit to being guilty of that.
The Hart-breaking headlines are acknowledged with glee by his harshest critics and I wouldn’t blame him for asking himself what he has done wrong. He may not be deserving of a place in the squad, but I’m not sure he deserves the ridicule.
As someone who has analysed Joe’s game critically in the past, it’s possible I’m coming over as a bit of a hypocrite here but without exception there’s never any personal joy taken when publicly pointing out flaws or areas in need of improvement.
And even though I agree with Gareth’s Southgate’s decision to leave Joe at home, I can still put myself in his position, and when I do, I feel disappointed and somewhat let down.
At 31, there’s is still time for Joe to return to the kind of form that made him a double Premier League winner but as much as his game needs an MOT, he could do with a PR makeover that takes him away from the damage these past two years in particular have done for him.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to sit down and interview Joe for the simple reason that I don’t think the Joe Hart we know, is the real one.
I get the feeling he has become the Joe Hart he thinks he should be rather than just himself. We all do it though. It’s a survival mechanism against the brutality of being a goalkeeper. Nobody is truly themselves once they’re out on the pitch but the part Joe has been playing has been detrimental to his game - and if there’s a watershed moment to usher in change, this is it.
As for England and Russia 2018, it’s no longer about Joe Hart.
Gareth Southgate has made his decision and it’s the right one. Of course it is. Statistics don’t lie and Nick Pope is a more than a deserving recipient of the third keeper berth.
Good fortune and form has carried him from relative obscurity and placed him firmly onto the biggest stage in world football at the expense of not only Hart, but his team-mate and club captain Tom Heaton.
Both find themselves on the underside of Pope’s flipped coin of fate and were kept there with a string of crucial performances that continued under the pressure of Heaton’s return to full fitness.
During Burnley’s run of 12 games without a win, it could have been easy for Sean Dyche to fall back on his trusted skipper to help get his side back on track.
It would have been harsh on Pope and luckily for him, Burnley’s lofty league placing meant there was no need for panicked changes.
So now we go in to the World Cup with three keepers with little or no international experience ... and I couldn’t be more excited at the prospect.
It’s no secret I have my favourite, but I would be more than comfortable with any one of them as first name on the team sheet.
Even if England do make it to the latter rounds and injury robs us of Pickford and Butland, who better to play in a side who might concede territory and possession to a superior side and have to defend resolutely than Nick Pope, who has been doing it all season?
That might be a too simplistic way of looking at things but we should put our trust in these young players and even if things don’t go well, just put it down to experience and build on it for two years’ time.
Whatever happens in the aftermath of England’s World Cup endeavours, this summer is going still going to be a huge one for Joe Hart.
After two unsuccessful years away from Manchester City, with one left on his contract there, I can’t wait to see what lies next.