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He's a keeper

Why Torino fans love tragic hero Joe Hart despite his poor form

The Man City reject has managed to achieve something remarkable this season despite his inconsistent on-field performances; popularity

Joe Hart’s story is currently one of sport’s most engaging narratives.

For all it’s many-layered complexities, football does also have some very basic principles which are easy to follow.

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If a player performs wells their popularity rises, if their form dips, so does public opinion.

Not for Joe Hart.

Torino fans have loved him from day he arrived and their love affair has continued, flourished even, despite the 30-year-old loanee’s inconsistent form.

And when we say inconsistent, that’s us being kind to an old friend.

Hart has been directly responsible for five goals this season, the second most amount of fatal errors out of all the goalkeepers in Serie A.

And that’s not including incidents that would draw murmurs of ‘should have done better’ from most fans.

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Three times this season he has flapped at crosses only to watch his net bulge a split second later.

In every single one of these instances, Hart’s error meant the difference between a win and a draw.

Many level-headed pundits and journalists have criticised his performances and indulged in blissful hindsight to question whether the club would have been better off without England’s No1.

But Torino’s home games are still punctuated with banners praising Hart and begging him to stay.

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So how has Hart managed to defy one of football’s most simple principles?

On the surface there’s no reason for the fans to possess such unwavering loyalty for Hart.

He’s an underperforming loanee after all.

But he’s also a likeable, passionate, well-known novelty.

The grass is always greener on the other pitch.

Hart’s 70 caps for England and two Premier League medals means he has a respected reputation in the game.

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It’s not every day Torino fans are treated to a marquee signing, even if it is just a temporary one.

The fact that he may not be performing at the same level as when he was selected for the PFA Team of the Year (in 2009/10 and 2011/12) doesn’t really matter that much.

In fact, if you add on the six points that Hart has cost them with his errors, Torino would still be in exactly the same position in the league table (9th).

What really matters is that Torino fans can buy a shirt with Hart on the back, a name that carries more weight than than any other member of their squad, Andrea Belotti’s rising star aside.

It’s like when Edgar Davids was Barnet’s player/manager.

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The Dutchman’s legs had gone, the club were relegated, and Davids kept getting sent off, but fans still loved the fact they had a Champions League winner in their ranks.

Hart has also endeared himself to fans by learning a sprinkle of Italian and familiarising himself with the club’s history.

Torino are fiercely proud of their identity.

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They are a traditional working-class club who have often dwelled in the shadow of their more successful neighbours, Juventus.

Man City have a similar story, at least up until the point the money arrived.

Because of this connection, a unique bond has been established between Hart and the fans, even though there’s no chance he’ll be a Turin resident next season.

City’s valuation is approximately double Torino’s record signing and his wage demands are on par with Italian demi-God Gianluigi Buffon.

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Discounting Euro 2016, shot-stopping has never been an issue.

Pep Guardiola only sent him packing from Man City because he didn’t have Manuel Neuer’s feet.

And here we have another intriguing factor that makes Hart’s narrative so fascinating.

If Claudio Bravo’s form was even remotely acceptable, City fans would have eventually forgiven their manager’s treatment of their title-winning keeper.

But the Chile international has made several high-profile errors and no amount of ‘playing out from the back’ will make the Etihad faithful forget dropped points in a tightly-contested season.

There’s almost a feeling that Hart’s harsh treatment at the hands of Guardiola has given him a free pass for the year.

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So much so that some fans believe his form is the result of being ditched by the club he loves.

Sympathy for Hart is high, and perhaps rightly so.

Assuming that Guardiola’s penchant for sweeper-keepers remains, we are left to wonder where poor Joe will be next season.

West Ham, Liverpool, a newly-promoted Newcastle?

Wherever he ends up the fans are unlikely to be as patient as Torino’s.

But if he rediscovers his best form, a Premier League rival would relish the opportunity to rub City’s blue noses in their mistake.

Whatever the case, we’d love to see him back in the Premier League, if only for the comfort of familiarity.


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