Happy Hart looking to future
The Manchester City goalkeeper is in line to face Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday, but he will not be backed up by Ben Foster. The Birmingham City No1 has decided to take a sabbatical to concentrate on his club career, having decided trying to oust 24-year-old Hart is not worth the effort.
Paul Robinson has also retired and Robert Green was left out of Fabio Capello's current squad amid doubts over his commitment to the national team, only to be called back when it was established that Fulham's David Stockdale was due to get married. Hart wanted to make it plain he was offering no opinion on the reasons for, or the wisdom of, Foster's decision. However, he could not see himself abandoning England.
"I can't envisage wanting to take a break," he said. "Who knows what is in the future? Other people make decisions based on personal reasons. I can only concentrate on myself and being available for these kind of trips. Right now I am really happy to be here and trying to get that No1 spot."
Mind you, if Hart cannot be happy at present, no one can. He has pushed Shay Given out of the first-team picture at City, to the extent the Irishman needs a move to try to salvage his career. Hart was one of the team's outstanding performers in a campaign in which they secured automatic UEFA Champions League qualification by finishing third in the Premier League and won the FA Cup.
Champions League excitement
Never short of self-belief to start with, it has provided the former Shrewsbury Town man with another confidence boost, in addition to offering an opportunity to perform at an even higher level.
"What has happened at Manchester City has given me a lot of confidence," he said. "We have achieved some fantastic things this season. We know what a tough task it will be to follow that. But the thing is, we could have achieved more, which just makes it more exciting for next season."
Having, for long periods, assumed they were heading for a place in the Champions League qualifiers at best, it came as a very pleasant surprise to squeeze Arsenal out of third spot to secure a direct route into the last 32. City's seeding means Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan are among those who lie in wait. And Hart is relishing the test.
"I can't wait to find out how much the Champions League will improve me," he said. "Getting it nailed on as well, rather than going into the qualifiers, is great. We can really prepare for it properly now. It will be a big test for us. It really is big boys' football."
Before Hart can enjoy his summer, there is one more test to come. It does feel like Switzerland is the add-on game that has totally slipped under the radar. However, failure to win at Wembley would put England's hopes of reaching UEFA EURO 2012 next summer in jeopardy.
Expectant England crowd
A capacity 90,000 crowd will be screaming Capello's men on, demanding it does not happen. Hart is unfazed by the prospect. "England are expected to win every game," he smiled. "If we were playing a team with 500 people in it, we would still be expected to win at Wembley. Nothing changes there."
The hosts are overwhelming favourites to come out on top. When they defeated Switzerland in Basel last September, Ottmar Hitzfeld's FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers had not just been struck by the retirements of two major stars in Alexander Frei and Marco Streller.
Six points adrift of England and joint leaders Montenegro, the Swiss have little chance of securing a passage to next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine. Nevertheless, Hart is wary.
"I don't know if beating them earlier in the season gives us a psychological edge," he said. "We know full well when teams come to Wembley it is a huge day for them, no matter what. It is a great occasion in a great stadium and they are playing against a good team. They will be doing everything they can. We have to be ready for them."