Heart Of Football

Hart transplant is the basis of Guardiola's summer strategy

The removal of Joe Hart from Manchester City is the cornerstone of Pep Guardiola's summer revolution.

More than any other player in the turnaround that has so far cost City S$300 million in transfer fees, the way that Guardiola wants his team to play is signified by the goalkeeper.

Hart had a bad European Championship, but this is about much more than his limp left hand that failed to stop the low shot from Iceland's Kolbeinn Sigthorsson that eliminated England from the tournament.

It wasn't Hart's only mishap at the Euros, and it isn't the only problem that new manager Sam Allardyce must confront when he names his first England squad for the World Cup eliminators today.

Hart, with 63 England caps, is - or was - England's No. 1 'keeper. By the time that City signed the Chilean Claudio Bravo on Thursday, Hart was No. 3 at the club where he had played for a decade.

The 'keeper as an integral part of the team ethos of passing is a very Dutch concept. Guardiola buys into it, and Joe Hart had a foretaste of it when he was dropped for a time by Manuel Pellegrini.

It left him in limbo, with half a week to find new employment.

Everton were supposed to be interested, but not at the £120,000 (S$214,000) weekly salary that the 'keeper would get simply by hanging around in the shadows of the Etihad Stadium.

There is the conundrum of life as a Manchester player.

City have also signed John Stones, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and others since Guardiola took charge. There is a race now to get surplus players out of the way.

That includes Hart and Yaya Toure, the midfield colossus who was not Guardiola's cup of tea during their time as player and coach at Barcelona.

Over at Old Trafford, a similar process goes on. Jose Mourinho gets his men, regardless of cost. The shifting of furniture is epitomised by Paul Pogba returning for a world-record fee, and Bastian Schweinsteiger being told to train with the youth squad unless or until he agrees to leave.

Hart believed he was in line to be England's captain. Now he is not even certain to be a player unless he finds club employment sharpish. That clock is ticking because not only is the transfer window due to shut at midnight on Wednesday, loan deals are part of that embargo.

Schweinsteiger, Germany's captain at the Euros, has said Manchester United will be his last club in Europe. He intends to keep himself fit and available for a call that Mourinho makes clear will not happen.

The two markets that might pay Schweinsteiger and take him off United's hands are the United States and China.

Both are months away from the next recruitment window. So Schweini and Hart are spare parts paid huge salaries for doing next to nothing.

The City revolution is already rolling.

Hart might have foreseen this, even before Guardiola joined the other ex-Barca employees who were hired years ago to run City on behalf of the owners, the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Make us the new Barcelona, the royals said.

Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, City's chief executive and director of football, were both at Barcelona when Guardiola was coach there. It is as if they have been preparing Man City for Pep's anointment from the moment they arrived.

Bravo will not keep goal today against West Ham United after, at the most, only two training sessions since his transfer was announced on Thursday - the same day, incidentally, that City and Barcelona were drawn to meet in the Champions League, albeit not until October.

By that time, Guardiola's City will have taken shape, and Bravo will have skippered Chile in two more rounds of World Cup games, adding to his 106 caps.

As bitter as Hart may feel, he should have seen this coming, just as he might have seen the goal by Iceland, and a similar low shot to his left from Gareth Bale for Wales at the Euros.

Hart is bigger and more physical than Bravo, as their respective heights of 1.96m and 1.84m would suggest.

But being physical is not in the Guardiola book of priorities. Being agile, alert and sound on the ground is vital too.

Guardiola took his managerial style from his own mentor, Johan Cruyff. And it was Cruyff's belief that possession of the ball is fundamental, and that the goalkeeper starting off possession with decent, accurate, thoughtful passes is where it all starts.

The 'keeper as an integral part of the team ethos of passing is a very Dutch concept. Guardiola buys into it, and Joe Hart had a foretaste of it when he was dropped for a time by the previous manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Long before the Pep revolution kicked in, Pellegrini signalled that Hart was not the immovable object that he (and England) thought he was.

Brave Hart he unquestionably is. Bold, almost bombastic in ordering defenders around in his goal area, does it for England. But Pellegrini, despite knowing from the start that he was a stand-in until City lured Guardiola, clearly looked for something else.

And Pellegrini, a painstakingly honest man, will surely have privately told Hart exactly why he was dropped, or "rested" to use the convenient terminology of the time.

When Hart had his farewell game for City, in a dead rubber of a Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest last Wednesday, it was the last kindness Guardiola felt he owed the goalkeeper.

"Stand up if you love Joe Hart," the faithful sang.

Guardiola was standing, in this case, for his own principles. Brave Hart will soon be replaced by Claudio Bravo.

And all the chatter about Hart making 16 passes, and 16 accurate ones, led only to the goalkeeper's ironic parting shot of "Well, pigs do fly, don't they?"

It isn't about flying pigs. It is about a philosophy where the goalkeeper is the real instigator of counter-attacks, the leader in that sense of the core approach that Guardiola intends to employ at Manchester.

Claudio Bravo to John Stones to David Silva to Sergio Aguero sounds like a plan. A Guardiola-Cruyff plan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Hart transplant is the basis of Guardiola's summer strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe