England's Fabio Capello still keen on Joe Hart

11 February 2009 10:17
Capello also confirmed that he considered Robert Green as one of his three leading keepers with David James still untouchable as No 1.

Hart's predicament at Eastlands is a huge frustration for him and for Capello, who sees the former Shrewsbury keeper as James's long-term successor in the national side. Given was so good against Middlesbrough on Saturday, making three exceptional saves to deny Afonso Alves, that Hart looks destined for a lengthy spell on the sidelines unless he elects to leave in the summer.

For all Hart's dismay at his club situation, a keeper who made his England debut against Trinidad and Tobago last summer needs to swallow his disappointment and focus on learning from the popular Given, applying himself fully in training and seizing his opportunity when it comes. Hart cannot risk stories about any negative reaction to Given's recruitment seeping back to Capello.

England's manager sounds keen to continue picking Hart despite hitherto espousing a policy that only first-team regulars would be considered. "I know Hart will be on the bench in the future,'' said Capello on Wednesday. "He stayed with us for 10 days when we played in the summer [against Trinidad and Tobago] so we want him to check him another time.'' Asked whether Hart would stay in the England squad despite his City demotion, Capello replied: "It is possible, really possible.''

Hart's plight at City is replicated across town with Ben Foster at United. Events in Manchester reflect that the English goalkeeping cupboard is not completely bare, but too many are on the shelf. Foster is regularly touted by his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, as England's best keeper but he needs action. Generally considered the best of the young set, Foster kicks his heels on the bench as Edwin van der Sar breaks record after clean sheet record. Since Capello became England manager a year ago, Foster has appeared only five times for Ferguson and has never featured under Capello.

As with Mark Hughes at City, Ferguson's task is not to develop keepers for England, merely to bring success to his club. Given and Van der Sar are clearly superior to Hart and Foster respectively, but the worry for Capello is how can this promising duo learn their craft? A life on the bench spiced by occasional Carling Cup run-outs is not going to improve Hart or Foster.

Capello has often expressed his fear over the squeezing out of the English professional. Scarcely a month after becoming England manager, Capello lamented: "Only 38 per cent of the players are English. The pool is reduced. I have had to reinstate a 37-year-old goalkeeper [James] but I have spotted one [Hart] in the under-21s who is very interesting.''

In seeking to deepen his "pool'' of keepers, Capello has watched seven in training: James, Green, Hart, Scott Carson, Paul Robinson, Chris Kirkland and Joe Lewis. Few have truly impressed Capello.

No wonder. The Italian hails from the land of Gianluigi Buffon, consistently the world's leading keeper over the past decade. Spain have even greater strength in depth. Where last night's opponents here in Seville boast an outstanding understudy in Pepe Reina to the accomplished Iker Casillas, England have James, a good keeper vulnerable to the occasional costly mistake, some injury-prone contenders such as Foster and Kirkland, others with suspect confidence in Robinson and Carson, a frustrated talent in Hart and even a League One representative in Lewis, the Peterborough shot-stopper who trained with England last summer.

At least Capello takes heart from James and Green being regulars with their clubs, Portsmouth and West Ham respectively. "I have confidence in Green and James,'' said Capello. Either live or on DVD, Capello assesses James and Green regularly in club action. "The last games James played well. Green the same. No mistakes.''

If England are to prosper in the World Cup finals in South Africa next year then they need James to stay fit and eradicate errors. They also need Hart to stay sharp despite the risk of rust gathering.

When Capello discusses the problems of English football with Lord Triesman, the Football Association chairman, he really needs to mention the dearth of native keepers.

Gone are the days when Peter Shilton or David Seaman dominated the area, or when Ray Clemence was in the frame. The foreign invasion is witnessed further on the coaching side. Clemence was England's goalkeeping coach but now assists Franco Tancredi, although he is still in charge of the development of keepers from under-16s to under-21s.

During Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign as England coach, the Swede was so worried about the supply line of English goalkeepers that he asked his FA employers to sound out Carlo Cudicini over whether the Italian might consider using residency rules to play for England. The FA were not keen on so blatantly borrowing foreign talent. Nor was Clemence, believing it would send a terrible message to young home-grown keepers, dispiriting them completely.

Arsenal's Spanish keeper, Manuel Almunia, has also been linked with an England call via the residency rule as he qualifies for a British passport this summer. Again, there are concerns over what this would mean to the likes of Hart, Foster and company.

The near-crisis in England goalkeeping provides another reason why some people want quotas on foreign players in the Premier League, although these fall foul of European law. The reality that England rely on James also adds greater urgency to the need to build the National Football Centre at Burton, where emerging keepers could share information and be mentored better.

Capello is a huge admirer of the Burton project, believing that England need a national training centre as the Italians do at Coverciano. It is accepted wisdom that a top-class keeper is required for tournament success (although Brazil defied that rule it in the past). Buffon helped Italy to become world champions in 2006 while Casillas was his usual safe pair of hands in assisting Spain to Euro 2008.

Sadly, England have no one remotely close to the calibre of Buffon or Casillas and Hart's new problem at City casts a cloud over an otherwise bright future.

Source: Telegraph