LONDON (Reuters) – After two years in the relative wilderness, former England number one Joe Hart has found his form — and a home — at Burnley and hasn’t yet given up hope on a return to the international setup.
“I feel like it’s set me free because I’m not looking over my shoulder any more, not worried about ‘Where am I going to go?’,” Hart, who has 75 caps for England, told the Times in an interview on Saturday.
The feeling of belonging is one that Hart — who spent the past two seasons on loan from Manchester City, first at Torino then West Ham United — admits he hasn’t felt in recent years.
“It’s been a strange two years,” he continued. “The one thing I really struggled with mentally was being asked ‘What’s next?’ by family, friends and football people. ‘I don’t know’ are three words I don’t like saying.”
As recently as a few seasons ago, Hart was considered one of Europe’s leading goalkeepers; England’s undisputed number one and the calming presence at the back of a Manchester City side that had designs on dominating Europe.
But the arrival of manager Pep Guardiola in 2016 signalled the end of Hart’s eight-season grip on the City number one spot.
A season-long loan in Italy behind Serie A’s fourth leakiest defence was followed by another loan spell at a struggling West Ham, where the two-time Premier League winner played only 19 times in the league.
“I loved being part of the [West Ham] team, some really good guys, but it just didn’t work for me,” he added.
“David Moyes came in, and it’s impossible to feel settled when you have a contract only until the end of the season. And he didn’t fancy me as a keeper.
“I tried everything I could. I just never felt settled, never really felt like people understood what I could bring. It wasn’t a great season for me which resulted in not being part of the World Cup, which was hard to take. It was really, really, really painful.
“There’s nothing else could happen to me: I had England taken away from me in the summer, and not really having a home.”
But Hart was handed a lifeline by Burnley, one of the Premier League’s pluckiest underdogs.
And under the tutelage of the highly-rated Sean Dyche the 31-year-old has found his form — making more saves than any other goalkeeper this season — and has his sights set on an international recall.
“I’m in good enough form,” Hart continued. “I’ve obviously got bundles of experience. I’ve got medals, 75 caps, handled massive situations before.
“I need to focus on getting it right at Burnley and seeing if that’s going to be enough because I’m never going to go away.
“I want to play for England again.”
Hart is likely to have plenty of chances to impress when unbeaten Chelsea visit Turf Moor on Sunday.
(Reporting by Tom Hayward; editing by Martyn Herman)