Joe Hart will be attempting to stop the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Mario Balotelli from scoring at this summer’s World Cup but it could have been a much different story for the England goalkeeper.
As a kid, today's Manchester City No.1 almost walked away from a potential career in professional football after becoming disinterested at hometown club Shrewsbury Town.
Hart, instead, prefered to play Sunday League with his mates and so might not have been preparing for this weekend's game at Crystal Palace in the Premier League title race.
However, Dave Timmins, a goalkeeping coach at Shrewsbury who is now on the staff at Tranmere Rovers, did not close the door on the youngster's potential return and it proved a successful tactic.
As part of Gillette’s Great Start programme, Sky Sports recently sat down with Hart and Timmins to talk about the former’s career, the art of goalkeeping and the importance of good coaching.
What is your backstory together? Joe, when did you first start working with Dave in the early stages of your career?
Joe Hart: “I have known Dave since when I first got involved with Shrewsbury Town when I was about nine or 10 years old. I got involved with Shrewsbury but I did not really enjoy it, because it felt a bit serious for me at that age. I decided to leave it and play Sunday League with my friends. I always spoke to Dave a lot, because I played for my county and where I am from he was involved with anything to do with goalkeeping. We always talked a lot and he left an open invite for when and if I wanted to take it up again to play for a club. I went back to Shrewsbury Town at the age of about 14 and it went from there.”
So, Dave, if it was not for you, England’s goalkeeper at the World Cup this summer might have been playing Sunday League somewhere instead of being in Brazil. How did you convince him?
Dave Timmins: “I had never looked at it like that! I suppose we made the training sessions fun. When it was at Academy level or, as it was then, Centre of Excellence, I always pushed Joe. But I knew that I also had to make it fun. The pitches in those days were rubbish and if it rained it would get very muddy. From a goalkeeping perspective, the muddy pitches meant Joe could throw himself around. Taking all the mechanics and coaching terminology out of it, basically, he just threw himself around and had fun. At the same time, we at Shrewsbury Town knew he was a good goalkeeper, because he kept the ball out of the net and had a passion for keeping it out of the net.”
Dave, Joe has told Sky Sports in the past that being a goalkeeper is not fashionable and there is ‘not a lot of love for goalkeepers’. How do you make goalkeeping interesting?
DT: “I totally agree. I think Joe has made goalkeeping interesting, because of how he is. I used to get my dad to take me everywhere to watch Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton, Paul Cooper and John Burridge, who was a head-case when he was at Wolverhampton Wanderers. They were all characters and Joe is a character. Peter Schmeichel was a fantastic goalkeeper but he also had a presence and an enjoyment of keeping the ball out of the back of the net. When I started coaching, I thought, ‘how can I get that across?’, because it is not all about drills. I think a young player also has to firstly want to be a goalkeeper.”
Joe, what do you think makes a good football coach – one who empowers you to have freedom to express yourself or one who is a bit strict and has a fear factor which acts as a motivation?
JH: “It has changed a lot since I have grown up but when I was young I think the important things were instilled in me; standards were always high - respect, desire - and it was always good to be informed where you were [in terms of performance] and told where you were aiming. Honesty has always been important for me.”
If the way you have been coached has changed as you have grown older, have you changed as a person? Were you shy as a kid or lacking in confidence?
JH: “I have just grown up. Football is totally different now to what it was in the past; it was a learning curve. Personally I never had that, ‘I am dying to be a professional footballer’ [feeling]. It was always kind of a progression that was laid out for me almost without me knowing. I have obviously changed; you go from being an Under-15 goalkeeper to a first-team goalkeeper. You have got to be different but it has been quite gradual and I have enjoyed the journey.”
Talking about goalkeeping itself, Joe, what goes through your head when you see a player lining up a shot?
JH: “There is not a great deal, to be honest! It is instinct and repeating the same things whether it is Luis Suarez or whoever. You make sure you are in the right position and cover all bases and make sure you are doing everything you need to be doing. It is instinct and how it works on the day and you cannot prepare for one particular shot or instance.”
Does it make a difference if you know your opponent? If it is Wayne Rooney, who you have played with and against on many occasions, does that give you an advantage?
JH: “It does and does not. I watch all games and a lot of football and see how people do things. There is no specific training drill for certain players; it is all so reactive. A lot of their finishing is reactive, too, as they are never just wandering through on goal; a shot is always worked around a defender or a challenge. It helps to know the player but you do not want to think you know what is going on. Reaction is key.”
How do you work on your reactions? Are their specific drills?
JH: “Just being in goal and playing against the best players I can play against. Every day is a big test against some of the best players in the world and you have got to train as you play. There are quick drills you can do with different size and type balls along with multi-balls but training as you play is the best way for me.”
Only Southampton (335) have faced less shots than City (338) in the Premier League this season. How do you stay mentally alert in a quiet game if you are not saving many shots or having much to do?
JH: “I have been doing it a long time now. Ninety minutes is not a long time to focus for me; it is a zone you get in. Even when you are not saving the ball, you are not just stood there looking around and thinking about what you are going to be doing later on that evening. There are a lot of ways to stay involved in the game, such as communicating with your defence, without making saves and I think that helps.”
Facts And Figures: Joe Hart
|Premier League 2013/14||Goals Conceded||Clean Sheets||Shots On Target Faced||Shots Saved||Punches||Passing Accuracy|
As well as mental agility, it is also important to be physically agile as a goalkeeper. You are a big man, which can sometimes make people less nimble, but have you always been agile or have you had to work at it?
JH: “I suppose I always have been agile, because I have always liked to be flying around, whether that is diving into a swimming pool or playing another sport. I have always fully committed to what I have been doing. I work hard off the field and I like to keep physically fit. I want to feel strong and able to move when I am in goal, because it all adds up and helps. I suppose I have been lucky in my genetics that I have never been held back by not being able to get around.”
Is there anything you do in the gym, specifically, in terms of exercises or stretches that work on agility and your physique?
JH: “I do a lot of core body work with equipment such as the TRX stationary ropes (bodyweight suspension-training equipment). We work quite closely with TRX and we have probably had them at Manchester City for about three years. But I am constantly changing, because everything develops all the time and the physios have always got an idea or a suggestion. I have been at the club a long time now and they know my body and what I need. I have done some Pilates, as well. It all stems from your core and that is key work, because the fast movements in goalkeeping can be dangerous for your back. Your core supports through the middle of you and that is what I focus on.”
Dave, has Joe always been an athletic and big man or was this something you tried to improve?
DT: “He has always been tall. The day after Joe signed for Manchester City, I was doing a goalkeeping course at a school. Joe came across to the school to say he was all sorted in signing for City and it was happy days. I have a photograph of that day and his body shape then is a lot different to how it is today. He is now a lot stronger.”
Joe, starting positions are becoming increasingly important for goalkeepers as there becomes a greater need for you to almost play as a sweeper and be quick off your line, as we have seen with Hugo Lloris. But there is also the need to balance this against the threat of being lobbed from long range as we have witnessed from the likes of Rooney and Suarez over recent seasons. How do you judge your starting position?
JH: “It is hard to give yourself a style. Lloris has got his way of doing things and we all have our own way of doing things. You develop a relationship with your back four and I think how you are going to play as a team is how you need to play as a goalkeeper. If you want the team pushing high, you as the goalkeeper need to be a little bit higher. Then there are also certain times when you put your helmets on and are defending for your lives and you need to be a little bit deeper. It is all relevant to the game. Your relationship with your defenders is vital and you need to be adaptable. Sometimes you are required to come out and sometimes you are not. Those decisions are important.”
With the current trend for splitting centre-backs and tiki-taka style, perhaps goalkeepers are facing as big a test of their footwork in modern football as they did when the pass-back rule was first introduced. What do you do to improve your footwork?
JH: “I work on it a lot in training and it is all game-related and different situations and different ways of playing. Some teams let you play and some teams do not. You need to cut down the risks some times. My way of playing is to not have set way; we have different situations and adapt. We talk about it before the game and after the game. Sometimes you might want to play but if your team-mate does not want the ball there is no point in giving it to them to make a point of, ‘that is how we need to play’. You need to adapt around the situation.”
Some goalkeepers have had to be very good with their footwork, like Victor Valdes over the years at Barcelona. Are there goalkeepers you admire for their use of the ball at their feet?
JH: “Of course. Each team is different in how they play. Valdes has been very good at doing what he has at Barcelona and he has been very confident. That is how they play. He has been there for years and played with the same players for years so they know what he does and he knows what they do. I would say nearly every single goalkeeper is good enough with their feet now. That is definitely something you need.”
You rank among the Premier League’s top four goalkeepers for the frequency with which you have punched the ball this season. Has the policy of punching crosses away been a conscious decision?
JH: “If I feel it is the right decision, I will go with it. I know I have got a strong punch and it usually clears the danger. If the ball is there to be caught, obviously everyone wants the ball to be caught. But punching does reduce the risk when there are a lot of people challenging for the ball. You have got to be confident in your decision and commit to it. We all make mistakes and if it is not the right decision, it is not the right decision but you are helping your back four out as best you can. As a goalkeeper, you are at an advantage with the extra reach with no one else being able to use their hands. Sometimes, I feel if I am leaning or coming through people, it is easier to punch.”
Is there a game which stands out for you where you think you have achieved or come close to the perfect performance?
JH: “I am still striving. For me, a good game is perhaps not what other people would see. A good game for me is confident, good communication and no real danger. Sometimes you have to have games where you have to make saves. Sometimes we do not play at our best and you want to help people out. But a good game for me is quiet, confident and no problems.”
What do you think football and good coaching has brought you in your life?
“Discipline, excitement and enjoyment. It is my life, it is how I live and I live in football and being coached every day. That is how I enjoy it. I love coming in to train and the different ideas and different ways of doing things and the different relationships you build. I always want to be there to help in any way I can. Building your relationship with your coach, as a goalkeeper, you get quite personal. There are maybe three goalkeepers to one goalkeeping coach whereas, with outfield players, there are 20 players to one coach.”
Gillette’s Great Start programme celebrates the role of coaching and encourages people to get into coaching by offering grants. To apply for a grant, visit facebook.com/GilletteUK