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When the Heart Skips a Beat: Joe Hart’s Exile in Torino

Written By Salvatore Bono

Since August, English keeper Joe Hart has been playing outside of his comfort zone in Italy’s Serie A with Torino.

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As his loan spell might have winded down, the player, who became a fan favorite, had his ups and downs in the difficult league for the other team from Turin.

When Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City over the summer, many felt that the Spanish tactician would lead City to not just Premiership glory but also a Champions League final.

What happened was the contrary – City remained a top five club in the 2016/2017 season but didn’t get the title, they were knocked out of FA Cup, and were bumped from the Champions League in the Round of 16.

This happened as their longtime keeper, Joe Hart, who many called the backbone of the squad, was loaned out to Torino in Italy.

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New Manager, New Ideas, Old Results

Pep Guardiola arrived to a heroes welcome at City.

Longtime City fan and former Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher even personally welcomed him and interview “El Signor” for the club’s website. The vibe at City was as high as it was after Roberto Mancini won them the title in 2011 for the first time in decades.

Guardiola was tasked with using the players he had, find a few new ones, and do whatever he had to do and win the Champions League.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has a specific managing style. It isn’t “total football” like Antonio Conte or as tactically brilliant as Max Allegri. It isn’t like Mourinho’s do or die approach or Carlo Ancelotti’s master class.

Guardiola manages on his own terms and has his own approach.

He wants the players he feels comfortable with. You may be a great striker like Zlatan Ibrahimovic but if he has already made up his mind about you and doesn’t like your style for whatever reason, no matter how good, loyal or hardworking you may be – hit the road.

Ibrahimovic fell victim of Guardiola’s disdain while at Barcelona and in his best seller, I Am Zlatan, the Swedish striker called out the manager’s tactics.

“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari you put premium fuel in the tank, you drive onto the motorway and you floor the accelerator,” he wrote. “Guardiola filled up with diesel and went for a spin in the countryside. If that’s what he wanted, he should have bought himself a Fiat from the start.”

Last summer, Joe Hart fell victim to Pep Guardiola’s methods.

Hart, who had been with the team for a decade and was City’s captain, told BT Sports after playing his final game on August 24: “We all know there’s a situation going on. It’s a situation — you know, we’ve got a top manager who the club have wanted for a long time.”

“But I feel that inside — outside of all the circus — we’re handling it well as a good team with a good management staff. Outside all the charades and all the rubbish that’s talked, we’ll find a solution. It’s not for me to say what it is [next for me].”

Hart left the field for his final game in tears as he was given a standing ovation by the fans.

The keeper then signed a one-year loan deal with Italian Serie A club Torino after manager Sinisa Mihajlovic demanded they get his signature.

Following Hart’s departure, City went on a streak and had a phenomenal start to the season but by Christmas, the cracks were showing and City began to fall. Clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham climbed higher and higher and eventually above them.

Hart’s replacement Claudio Bravo, who Guardiola worked with at Barcelona, has not fared as well. Bravo often times looked out of place, confused, and bewildered for the Citizens this season. Such an experienced keeper was more fish out of water than world class.

In many ways, Hart, like Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus and Iker Casillas at Real Madrid once upon a time, became the face of his team. A hero to millions, Hart will forever be a Citizen.

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La Dolce Vita

Joe Hart sticks out like a sore thumb in Italy. First off, his six-foot-five-inch frame makes him one of the tallest men walking around the country – next to Milan’s Gianluigi Donnorumma.

Second, Hart’s pasty complexion and blonde hair might have had many thinking another invasion was happening.

While he might look out of place, he was treated to Italian hospitality and made to feel right at home.

Torino F.C. fans had so much to be excited about this season as forceful manager Sinisa Mihajlovic took over “La Granita,” and striker Andrea Belotti lit up the back of the net almost each and every game scoring over 20 goals. Hart was icing on the cake.

The former City captain and England keeper arrived with a massive smile on his face and began to get fans on his side speaking Italian in his first press conference.

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Hart also made history becoming the first British goalkeeper since 1930 to play in Italy.

He was a hit and the first half of his season looked more than promising; it looked as if he was becoming the hero he was at Manchester City.

“I have learned to see football from a different perspective. I live well in a nice city. I play in a team with fantastic people and fantastic fans and I learn something new every day, not just in football,” he told Gazzetto Dello Sport in January.

“Being here is my life. I have learned that sometimes football can be a mad game. Now, I consider it a normal move in my career.”

As the season progressed, the 30-year-old’s form began to show cracks. Sitting in the top half of the table, Torino were expected to be higher, fighting for Europa League qualification.

Prior to a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Napoli in his penultimate match for the Granita, the president of Torino, Urbano Cairo came out and had a mixed reaction to him.

“Hart made a few mistakes, especially when coming out for the ball,” said Cairo. “He is an important goalkeeper. We probably didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international… but he did some good things, too.”

Torino F.C. initially expressed interest in buying the City keeper, however, his $30 million price tag is far more expensive than the club can afford. Given his performance during the Napoli match, it appears unlikely he will return for another season, despite having become a fan favorite.

Despite the season’s ups and downs, Hart had his heart in the city and it is reflected in everything he did off the field. This explains why the fans and his manager loved him so much.

The player even went to the Superga Basilica where the “Grande Torino” club perished in 1949 after their plane crashed into the church.

He gave his blood, sweat, and tears for Torino. Whatever the future holds, he left his mark with the club forever.

“The only thing on my mind is Torino because my only focus is on today,” told Gazzetta dello Sport in January. “I play for Torino and I think about Torino.”

Read: America United: When The US Silenced the Three Lions

In May, he was heavily linked to Roma, yet, nothing has come of it. As he returns to England, the Three Lions star is a hero in Italy.

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