Joe Hart is off to Torino on a season-long loan. It could be a good move for the England keeper, though my personal hope would be that it opens up the opportunity for Fraser Forster to cement his place as England’s starting custodian; regular football, and a move away from the swirl of Pep’s brave new City where his options were all but exhausted and his omission would only be a story in itself, should reinvigorate a player who, should we not forget, has been a mix of sublime and infuriating for fans of England and Manchester City alike.
Hart has kept 119 clean sheets in 10 seasons (not counting the present, because he hasn’t yet played). His career save percentage is 72.73%; in 2010/11 and 2011/12, he managed save percentages of 76.43% and 76.98% respectively, keeping 35 clean sheets across the two seasons. To put that into context, of players who have kept goal more than 100 times in the Premier League, Hart has the sixth best save percentage (after Petr Cech, Heurelho Gomes, Marcus Hahnemann, David de Gea, and Jens Lehmann) and the best of any English ‘keeper. He has played 302 Premier League games, the 15th most of any goalkeeper, and kept 119 clean sheets; only Pepe Reina played fewer games but recorded more shut-outs (134 in 285 games).
Of the goalkeepers in the Premier League who have played over 300 games, only four have a better clean-sheets-to-games ratio than Hart: Cech has kept a clean sheet in 48.4% of his matches, Edwin van der Sar in 42.2%, Peter Schmeichel in 41.3%, and David Seaman in 40.7%. Hart’s 39.4% is the next best, ahead of the only two other keepers to have played over 300 games and had over 30% clean sheets, Nigel Martyn (36.8%) and Tim Howard (33.1%).
Reina’s 47% clean-sheet percentage is mighty impressive, but for context, David de Gea is on 37.5% (63/168), Thibaut Courtois is on 31.0% (18/58), and Jens Lehmann’s Premier League career percentage was 36.5% (54/148). In short, while Hart might have made mistakes, at the level he played at any such error is going to be high profile; his consistency, however, should not be overlooked in spite of those. At 29, he should have at least another four or five years at a high level in him as well, so Torino should be very pleased with their signing.
As an aside, Daniele Padelli, who Hart should replace, was once considered a bright young of Italian goalkeeping following some impression performances for the Italian U20s: Rafa Benitez even signed him on loan for Liverpool from Sampdoria with a view to a permanent transfer, but one poor game (his only for the club) against Charlton in the last game of the 2006/07 season saw him packed off back to Italy. He was, however, the first Italian to play for Liverpool.
Italian goalkeepers are an iconic breed (perhaps omitting Padelli) from Giuseppe Moro and Giorgio Ghezzi to Dino Zoff, Angelo Peruzzi, or Gigi Buffon. Perhaps due to the emphasis on defence that was bred of catenaccio the ‘keeper has been less a source of derision or suspicion in Italy than many other footballing cultures and, due to their excellent production line of goalkeeping talent, Italian teams are often less quick to call on or need stranieri between the sticks. It will be interesting to see how Hart, whose at times florid style of communication can irk, will fare in the home of goalkeeping. The stats show, though, that he has been an excellent servant to City and a truly great Premier League goalkeeper.
Tony Marchi, a London-born wing-half of Italian descent, started his career at Spurs in 1949, but then moved first to Vicenza, and thence to Torino for the 1958/59 season, scoring four in 29 games. He then returned to Spurs and saw out the rest of his professional playing career at the Lane (though he did move into management for a short stint).
Joe Baker, a centre forward from Liverpool, played for the Italian side during the 1961/62 season. He scored seven goals in 19 appearances following a transfer from Hibernian. He then moved to Arsenal, notching up 93 goals in 144 games. Denis Law, his roommate during his spell in Turin, returned after one season as well to play for Manchester United, scoring 171 goals in 309 games. Baker’s time in Turin was not a happy one, as he was involved in a serious car accident, needing life-saving surgery. It was a terrible foreshadowing of the death of Gigi Meroni, a celebrated and brilliant Torino forward, who was killed after being hit by a car in 1967; the club was already horribly associated with tragedy after the deaths of 18 players and five club officials, as well as four crew, three journalists, and the tour organiser, in the Supergra air disaster of 1949.
Gerry Hitchens had a happier time in Italy: he was signed from Aston Villa by Inter in time for the 1961/62 season but then moved to Torino, where he stayed for three seasons, scoring 28 goals in 89 games. He played for England in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, the first English player to represent their country while based at a foreign club, but then fell foul of Alf Ramsey’s change of heart, whereby he insisted on only home-based players appearing for the national side. Nonetheless, Hitchens opted to stay in Italy and did not return to the domestic game until 1969, turning out for Worcester City.