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Micah Richards meets Joe Hart: ‘Nuno said whatever happens I would not kick a ball for him’

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Joe Hart has a spring in his step. It’s a sunny afternoon in Glasgow and he’s received a visit from one of his closest friends, Micah Richards.

This city will be at a standstill on Sunday when Celtic and Rangers go head-to-head and Hart is relishing the chance to sample the Old Firm frenzy.

The past five years have led Hart to experience many different sides of football — and not many have been positive. 

There were laughs and jokes as these two former Manchester City team-mates were reunited but, as DOMINIC KING heard during a candid hour, it was a time for reflection, too.

Joe Hart is facing a new challenge at Celtic after enduring much rejection in recent years

Joe Hart is facing a new challenge at Celtic after enduring much rejection in recent years

Hart told his former Manchester City team-mate Micah Richards about his struggles

Hart told his former Manchester City team-mate Micah Richards about his struggles

The pair enjoyed success together at City, which included winning the FA Cup in 2011

The pair enjoyed success together at City, which included winning the FA Cup in 2011

RICHARDS: Do you remember the first time we had a night out?

HART: I hadn’t quite got on to your timetable then! I was starstruck by you… you were 18, in the England team and you said: ‘Meet me at 11pm on Deansgate Locks.’ I get there at 10.50pm, waiting outside this bar. I look at my watch, 11.05pm, you still hadn’t showed up. I’m this young kid who has just come from Shrewsbury, the lad I’m meeting is running Manchester!

I decided to call and you answer: ‘Yeah, I can see you!’ So I’m buzzing then, I know I haven’t been stood up. Fifteen minutes later, still no sign! I think: ‘He must have some ****ing good vision, this kid, if he can see me from 15 minutes away!’

RICHARDS: Every week we would be doing something… it’s been a while hasn’t it?

HART: Yep — and life has been very stop-start since then but… that’s football, unfortunately.

SCOTLAND THE BRAVE

Hart joined Celtic at the beginning of August. He had spent last season at Tottenham after being released by Burnley. In the past two seasons, the 34-year-old only played 13 matches.

He jumped at the opportunity to kickstart his career.

RICHARDS: So, Celtic… tell me about it. What a place this is to come and play football! But from everything I knew, you were loving life down in London.

Hart tried his utmost for Tottenham last season and made ten appearances in total

Hart tried his utmost for Tottenham last season and made ten appearances in total

Nuno Espirito Santo informed Hart that he had no chance of playing for Tottenham under him

Nuno Espirito Santo informed Hart that he had no chance of playing for Tottenham under him

HART: I spoke to Jose Mourinho (last summer). I love being at the top. I love fighting. The buzz that we talk about in football, there is nothing better. Once you have been fighting in a situation where every single match means life or death, with respect to a place like Burnley or West Ham, the environment isn’t on the edge. I like being on the edge. So Jose told me about his plans.

There were no stupid conversations or promises. It wasn’t: ‘If you come here and are brilliant in training, you will take over from Hugo Lloris.’ I’m a grown-up, he’s a grown-up. Hugo is a top keeper. There were opportunities in the League Cup and the Europa League. He also had respect for me, which at this age is more important than wages or anything.

I enjoyed talking to him, I enjoyed making it work. It was just a mad season for Tottenham, wasn’t it?

I put my heart and soul into it. I loved being there for people like Dele Alli, who had such a tough time. I loved helping the younger lads.

I made it my mission to show that every day I would be on it. No corners cut, no easing off. No reaction to not playing certain games.

When we got to the later stages of some cup competitions, he told me: ‘I need my captain.’ I hated hearing it but I am a grown-up. I understood. If that’s what he needed to do, that’s what he needed to do.

At the end of the season, I thought: ‘OK, one more year at Tottenham.’ I was then going to start to think about winding down.

I like to commit, I like to wear the badge properly for the team I represent. And then, two or three weeks into pre-season, I was told: ‘No matter what happens, you will not kick a ball for Tottenham.’

RICHARDS (wide-eyed): Really?

HART: Yep. That’s what Nuno (Espirito Santo) wanted. I never really had a conversation with him and the one conversation that we did have was that one.

Look, maybe Tottenham needed a clear out and maybe they had to be firm. But I alluded to this earlier. I was thinking to myself: “What am I doing here? I’m fit, strong, ready, committed.”

But I spoke to my wife and I told her that I would sooner play 30 charity games and give something back with what I am trying to do. I’d sooner make myself available for my local park team, who are trying to raise a bit of money, and give my all than do this.

The shot-stopper believes he can have a big impact for Celtic and praised their fanbase

The shot-stopper believes he can have a big impact for Celtic and praised their fanbase

RICHARDS: I’ve been there. It’s quite degrading in a way. When you go from being at the top, before you know it someone has an opinion about you — and you cannot do anything about it. There is no reason for why people make decisions.

HART: I am not looking for sympathy. If a manager doesn’t want me, he doesn’t want me. This isn’t a piece about ‘Poor Joe Hart’. But I really felt that way. I was sad. I needed a few days to get my head together. I loved being at Tottenham, there are some really good people.

I didn’t know what was next, it was going to have to be something to interest me. Spurs let people know I was available — I spoke to (Celtic manager) Ange Postecoglou. I told him how I was feeling, how I was happy to go and play on a park because I don’t need this **** any more. I said you can take this as me being vulnerable, I just need a bit of love.

I’ll be there with you, all or nothing. He said to me: ‘I do my research. I’ve not needed to do one bit of research on you as a goalkeeper, as I don’t need to.’ That made me feel good, first and foremost. He told me he had spoken to people I had played with in the past and people in the game — just about you. To come and do the job I want from you, I just needed to know about you as a person.

RICHARDS: To some outsiders, people see you as arrogant. Why? There are these perceptions that I hear all the time: Daniel Sturridge — moody. Joe Hart — arrogant. Stephen Ireland — crazy. Where did this tag come from?

The 34-year-old believes that  some of the perceptions of him are inaccurate and unfair

The 34-year-old believes that  some of the perceptions of him are inaccurate and unfair

HART: I don’t know. I pride myself on how I behave. I’ll put it like this. If you were down in England and you asked someone about me, they’d say: ‘You know what, he was good once but he’s ***** now.’ But then if you followed that up with: ‘OK — when did you last watch him play?’ the answer would be: ‘I don’t know, I haven’t seen him play for ages.’ It’s completely based on hearsay. There is a ripple effect that comes with some people’s names.

LEAVING MANCHESTER CITY 

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Hart’s career can, in some ways, be spilt in two. The years before Pep Guardiola and the years after. In 2016, before he had even managed a game in the Premier League, Guardiola made a decision that Hart, who had won two Premier Leagues and been a central figure in the club’s renaissance, would not be his No 1.

HART: People totally lost who I was as a professional and a person. I think I was just a name — and a name that was a followed by ‘hmmmm’. Once you get that ‘hmmmm’… Football is a mad sport. When you are on one side of it — and you will know this — there is nothing you can do wrong.

You are almost cringing because at times, you hear stuff and you think to yourself: ‘I’m not actually that guy.’

According to Hart his name was soured by Pep Guardiola's decision to not play him regularly

According to Hart his name was soured by Pep Guardiola’s decision to not play him regularly

HART’S BEST MOMENTS 

Best save?

From Slovenia’s Jasmin Kurtic v England (Oct 2016): ‘It was like an out of body experience.’

Best performance?

City v B Dortmund (Sep, 2012): ‘What a team they were, I helped get us a point.’

Best striker faced?

Didier Drogba: ‘I’ve got respect for so many but he was something else.’

 

But my name was soured a bit once Pep said what he said. Look, I’ll make this clear. He never actually said anything derogatory to me. Not once. He just said he wasn’t happy with my capabilities to play in his team at that time and how he wanted to play.

RICHARDS: I have been vocal about this. He didn’t even give you a chance. Not one chance. He brought in Claudio Bravo. Look, Ederson is an unbelievable goalkeeper but nobody speaks about Bravo. He was a disaster! Had he given you a chance…

HART: It was just such an important moment. I knew… I was speaking to some other players at the time. They were saying to me: ‘Just stay, you’ll be fine.’ 

I was playing for England, something I absolutely loved. He would have known that. But staying was never going to happen. It was just politically impossible for me. I had to go.

I just wanted to play for England and I couldn’t do that if I stayed and never played. I went to Torino, I was so proud to go over there and do what I did. Other better moves got blocked at the same time, as City didn’t want me harming them.

I ended up going away with England at the end of August, very emotional. It was Sam Allardyce’s first training camp and I knew I had to sign for someone. 

We had just had a poor Euros; I had a poor Euros by my standards. Sam said to me: ‘If you are playing, I will play you.’ From nowhere Torino happened and I jumped on it.

ENGLAND

Hart won 75 caps and was No 1 at three tournaments. Playing for his country represented the pinnacle and he kept seven clean sheets in his last 11 appearances. He never expected a goalless draw with Brazil in November 2017 to represent the end of the line.

RICHARDS: What is your relationship like with Gareth then? It is good, bad, indifferent?

Hart's relationship with Gareth Southgate broke down after he was left out of the 2018 World Cup squad

Hart’s relationship with Gareth Southgate broke down after he was left out of the 2018 World Cup squad

HART: It just stopped. I finished the season with West Ham. That is the only place I don’t feel like I really did anything. I was kind of accepting that I wasn’t in the right form to start for England in the World Cup. But I had been No 1 for years. I thought that if we went to the tournament and I didn’t play, I could just about handle it.

Jordan had been doing well, he was in good form and maybe it was his time. But I had been around, I had helped Gareth as one of the senior players. I took the role very seriously, I was very proud to represent my country. I was ready for the World Cup. I got a little break at the end of the season to get myself ready. Then I got a call. He said to me: ‘It’s not great news.’ I was like: ‘Oh… OK.’ He said to me: ‘I’m not going to take you to the World Cup.’

RICHARDS (shaking his head in disbelief): Just like that?

HART: I still wanted to play but I kind of accepted, for the greater good, that there is needle around the goalkeepers. So I went: ‘Why?’ He said to me: ‘I don’t feel you have had a strong enough season compared to the other three (Pickford, Nick Pope, Jack Butland). Then it went quiet… and it stayed quiet.

He then said to me: ‘I’m not really sure what else there is to say.’ I said: ‘Well, there isn’t much to say is there? Best of luck for the tournament.’ And that was it. That was the last time I spoke to him. I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. Football is ruthless.

Hart is relishing the new opportunity that he has received to make an impact for Celtic

Hart is relishing the new opportunity that he has received to make an impact for Celtic

Hart spoke of the good spirit in the Celtic dressing room and is enjoying his time at the club

Hart spoke of the good spirit in the Celtic dressing room and is enjoying his time at the club

NEW BEGINNINGS

If things go as Hart expects, he will be at Parkhead until June 2024. He has been blown away by the support he has received and is invigorated by the potential.

RICHARDS: How have they taken to you here? What’s it like being back at a place when you need to win every week?

HART: The first day I walked in, I could see Leigh Griffiths looking at me in the dressing room. One of the lads said to me: ‘Leigh’s got a bomb on him, you know?’ There was a bit of silence (Griffiths scored two free-kicks past Hart at Hampden Park in June 2017).

I just said: ‘Yes… yes, I know!’ and they all started hooting! It’s been brilliant, really.

I thought about the size of Celtic, that legendary home support and I thought: ‘Yeah! I have got to ****ing do that!’

I’ve done the Premier League. I wanted to go and take this on.

I told the people who mattered to make it happen, Celtic did the best they could for me, which I really appreciated, and before I knew it I was on a plane to the Czech Republic to meet them. I’m looking forward to the future.

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