We need to talk about this photograph. I want it to go away but I just can’t stop looking at it. In footballing terms, it’s the saddest photo I think I’ve ever seen. Pure ecstasy juxtaposed with downright misery. A player recently signed for his passing ability with a player soon likely to depart because of his lack of passing ability. City’s next ten years side by side with City’s past ten years. A smiling Stones and a broken Hart.
It feels like this photograph just shouldn’t be. In John Stones’ first interview as a City player he talked about his friendship with Joe Hart and how he’d already played some sort of prank on him. Oh the banter these two were going to have. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities for lolz in the City dressing room: the jokes, the wind-ups, the catchphrases. It’s absolutely tragic. In a footballing sense, the friendship and camaraderie between the two could, and should, have led to an in-depth understanding of each other’s play on the pitch. It feels like both City and England have lost out on part of a defensive partnership as Joe Hart’s future at City hangs in the balance.
At first I thought I could make a little joke about this photograph and get at least 3 faves on Twitter: ‘When your mate’s steaming but you know you have to drive home’ or something like that. Jesus that is bad. As you can see, I was struggling to think of a funny one and then it kind of dawned on me. It’s not a laughing matter. There’s nothing funny about this situation. This absolutely sucks.
A few of my mates have said they haven’t felt this way since Shaun Wright-Phillips left and I get that feeling too, to a degree. Something about Joe Hart, though, feels different. He’s England’s number 1. He’s the link between City before the money and since the money; that little reminder that we could buy a player from Shrewsbury Town for £600,000 and make them a success. He acknowledges the fans, he speaks from his heart, he fought the English players at City “curse”, he’s an excellent ambassador for the club. And he’s absolutely class at saving shots. I think of that 0-0 at Spurs, I think of Dortmund, of Barcelona, of Dimitri Payet running off celebrating scoring a free kick last season only to see Hart stop it at the last second. This proud, confident and let’s face it, handsome man shouldn’t be looking or feeling as despondent as this snapshot suggests.
At the same time, yes, it is just a snapshot. I saw a follow-up picture where Hart is smiling. But he’s not really smiling. His mouth his closed and there’s sadness in his eyes. I swear, when I saw that first picture I just felt wretched. It’s one of those photographs that a drunken Ciaran Murray really over analysed. I was sat in the pub after the game pulling apart every tiny nuance. John Stones has only been at City a week and it already feels like he’s part of the furniture. Here he is, with his post-match sweaty, ruffled hair and his arm around Joe Hart in his pristine kit and not a hair out of place on his dandruff free head. An elated John Stones had just finished his first ever Champions League game and, in the photo, you can see the logo proudly emblazoned on the sleeve of his City shirt whereas on Joe’s, it’s across his sad, shameful, symbolic substitute’s bib. Look at that dejected number 1 on Hart’s shorts. Look at the JH1 across the redundant gloves he holds in his hand. Look at how Stones is almost tugging on his arm for him to embrace the 5-0 victory but how Hart’s body language is turned away. He just seems to want to be left alone and to get the hell away from the pitch, the glare of the public eye and the flashbulbs that have led to me overanalysing a photograph and writing this blog.
Look at the word across Hart’s bib. Respect. When Joey Barton is taking time out from reading Nietzsche, smoking cigars and playing for Rangers to suggest City lack common decency, you know we’ve hit a low point.
— Onefootball (@Onefootball) August 17, 2016
Barton made a valid point that Hart “could of” gone on to bigger and better things himself but wanted to be a City legend. It cuts me up to look at this picture and see John Stones, who’s only been here five minutes but is a likely future City legend trying to gee up a deflated Joe Hart, who has been such an integral part of City’s recent past.
We all know what’s happened. Guardiola wants to win title after title. He wants players that fit his system. Joe Hart, for all his excellent reflex saves, always had a problem with his distribution and never seemed too comfortable with the ball at his feet. Unfortunately, in Guardiola’s teams, there’s just no room for a goalkeeper who is unable to fit the necessary specifications. I just hope Joe is treated with the respect he deserves as this situation is resolved.
It’s the human side of the photograph that got me right in the feels. I think we can all empathise with Joe at this point if we’ve ever felt left out, unwanted or jealous even. Stones’ place couldn’t be more secure and as City have now almost certainly qualified for the Champions League; his face tells the story of someone delighted to be embarking on his maiden voyage in Europe’s elite competition. Hart, who has been such an integral, consistent part of City’s European excursions up until this point, probably realised he’s not coming along for this ride and for all John Stones’ affectionate attempts at collective celebration, Hart just can’t make his face lie about how he feels. The emotion in this picture will linger with me forever.
Written by Ciaran Murray
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