World Cup 2018: Why England must take Joe Hart to Russia

Match of the Day

Everyone who says Joe Hart is not good enough to go to this summer's World Cup is missing the point - the West Ham goalkeeper is not England's best number one any more, but he is our best number three.

Based on how well he is playing, of course Hart should not be on the plane to Russia. Out of all the regular goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues, there are only two with a worse shot-to-save ratio this season.

Joe Hart save % of 57.1
West Ham keeper Joe Hart has saved 53 of the 91 shots on target he has faced in the Premier League this season. Of the 125 goalkeepers to have faced 20 or more shots in Europe's top five leagues - England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany - only two have a worse save % - Southampton's Alex McCarthy with 56.6% and Alberto Brignoli of Italian side Benevento with 56.3%

Burnley's Nick Pope, who realistically is Hart's main rival for a place in the squad, is at the other end of that scale. While Hart has had a mostly miserable season and made several obvious errors, Pope has had an amazing one and been inspirational for his team.

But form is not the factor that England manager Gareth Southgate will be considering when he makes his decision about who will be back-up to Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland, despite everything Pope has going for him.

Nick Pope has the second-best save percentage in the Premier League this season, behind Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea (80.5%). Pope is ranked sixth in that statistic in Europe's big five leagues.
Nick Pope has the second-best save percentage in the Premier League this season, behind Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. He is ranked fifth in that statistic in Europe's big five leagues.

The role of a third-choice keeper at a major tournament involves many things, but they hardly ever get on the pitch. Since 1934, only four out of the 435 teams to compete at World Cup finals have used all three of their keepers - and the last team to do it were Greece in 1994, after they had been eliminated.

Instead of looking for someone who might shine if they get a chance, Southgate will be looking for the right character and someone he can trust to support his team-mates and be a positive influence on the whole squad.

That is not playing down what the role entails, though. I have heard being the number three goalkeeper described as simply being a cheerleader but, having done it at a major finals myself, there is a heck of a lot more to it than that.

Yes, you are there to support the team, but you can be very influential while you do it. Do not underestimate the job by thinking Hart would just be going to Russia to help out in shooting practice.

Hart's form irrelevant

Joe Hart watches as Peter Crouch scores for Stoke City against West Ham
Joe Hart watches as Peter Crouch pokes the ball home following a fumble from the England goalkeeper in West Ham's draw with Stoke

It has been suggested that Hart is playing his way out of Southgate's plans for Russia with performances like the one he put in against Stoke last week, when his fumble cost West Ham a goal with the England manager watching on.

I don't think that is the case - nor does it matter that Hart cannot try to impress this weekend because he is ineligible to face Manchester City, his parent club.

The things Southgate wants to see are more to do with what he will get from Hart in a training camp with a tight-knit environment, and he knows that already.

If he makes it, these will be Hart's fifth major finals and his third World Cup - he has been first choice at all of them apart from the 2010 World Cup, when he was third choice.

His experience will be invaluable to Pickford and Butland, who have played at several age-group finals but have been to only one tournament at senior level between them - in 2012, when John Ruddy's broken finger in training saw Butland bumped up from the standby list.

Gareth Southgate and Joe Hart
Joe Hart has been in every squad Gareth Southgate has named as interim or permanent England manager since he took charge in September 2016. In the 16 games that Southgate has been England manager, Hart has played in 11 of them and the only competitive game he has not featured in was the win over Lithuania in October 2017 just after England had qualified for the World Cup

I know Southgate has shown himself to be a brave manager who is willing to make changes with some of his selections, but this is slightly different.

It comes down to personality, not ability, and, despite calling Pope up into his last squad in March, Southgate cannot be sure of what he is like when he is away for five or six weeks - especially compared to Hart.

In this situation I would expect him to go with what he knows.

Experience can improve the blend of the squad

England goalkeepers
If selected, much of Hart's work in Russia could come with his fellow keepers on the training ground

The ranking of first, second and third keeper in any squad is usually clearly defined, and they will be this time too. I think Southgate will go for Pickford, Butland and Hart - in that order.

Unlike any of the outfield players, the third-choice keeper does not travel to any tournament expecting to play, so Hart will have no illusions there.

He will be aware of the dynamic that a group of keepers has at international level, and the part he has to play in it - which is to do everything he can to support the number one and number two during the tournament.

While the second choice is looking to excel in training and has to be ready to step in at almost any time, including during games, the number three - or 23 in terms of their usual shirt number - is usually in the stand during matches.

Rachel Brown-Finnis
Rachel Brown-Finnis won 82 caps for England and went to six major tournaments. She was third choice at Euro 2001, second choice at Euro 2005, the 2011 World Cup and Euro 2013, and was England's number one at the 2007 World Cup and Euro 2009

Hart will also be playing third fiddle to what the other two keepers need in training in the build-up to matches, but he is still important because of his knowledge - what he can suggest during those drills and also by offering some analysis and feedback before and afterwards.

He would also be Pickford's confidant, and his go-to person for information on scenarios that the young Everton keeper has not been in before.

Although it is possible Pickford may not want to seek advice from Hart, it is not even an option for him with Butland and Pope as the other keepers.

I also think Hart would improve the blend of the whole squad. One of the things I like about Southgate is that he has given young players and new faces a chance, but an experienced older player can still bring something to the mix if they are still motivated.

I don't know him personally but I am sure Hart's attitude is right. Southgate knows him well and he would not consistently pick him otherwise. Put all that together and he is the best fit to be the number three.

Who will be England's number one?

England goalkeepers - Jordan Pickford, Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Nick Pope
Joe Hart (second from left) has 75 England caps - the other three contenders have a total of nine between them. Jordan Pickford (far left) made his debut against Germany in November and won his second cap against the Netherlands in March. He is yet to concede a goal for the senior England team

I am a huge fan of Pope, and put him on my shortlist for the player of the season because of the impact he has had in his first campaign in the Burnley team.

While form is not important for the third-choice keeper, you could definitely argue that it should decide who is England's number one.

On that basis, Pope who would be first choice, not fourth. He has played well consistently for the past few months too, not just recently.

England goalkeepers 2017-18
GamesClean sheetsGoals concededShots on target facedSavesSave %Errors leading to goals
Jack Butland3255818913369.311
Joe Hart19439915357.144
Jordan Pickford3595416711467.660
Nick Pope32102813410679.10

But it appears goalkeeper distribution is something that matters a lot to Southgate too, because of the way he wants England to play.

That seems to give Pickford the edge, because he is excellent at it, and I would agree with that choice based on the same criteria that Southgate is using.

We do not see Butland play out from the back very often for Stoke, or Pope for Burnley. Hart has never really looked comfortable doing it, which is one of the reasons his career has stalled.

Pickford's ability with his feet is his big strength over the other keepers but he is also extremely confident, which makes me think he is ready for this stage. He does not make many mistakes but I don't think an error would faze him, which is crucial.

Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford
When Pickford joined Everton for £30m in June 2017, his manager during a loan spell at Preston, Simon Grayson, said: "He is vocal and he is a winner. He loves the pressure of being the best he can. He will be looking at the England situation at the moment and thinking the next port of call is to be England's number one. We felt he could have played outfield with the quality of his feet."

You could argue a case for each of the keepers I have mentioned, though.

It is unusual that England don't have an established number one at this late stage before a World Cup, but I don't see it as a problem - it is an exciting time.

Hart did not really have any sort of steady competition during the years he was number one, so it is refreshing for Pickford and Pope to emerge now as well as seeing Butland stay consistently fit.

That has coincided with Hart's dip in form to produce the situation we are in. However, there is no need to panic.

We are not sure who will take the position long term, but we have some excellent goalkeepers to choose from.

Rachel Brown-Finnis was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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