West Ham’s Joe Hart preparing to take the Premier League by storm for the second time in his career
There is something different about Joe Hart when he ducks out of the unwanted summer rain and into the press room at West Ham’s training ground.
It’s not the way he talks – there’s no Italian twang after his year with Torino, sadly – and there’s no change to the familiar swagger. No, it’s something far more prosaic than that: he has a black eye.
“The induction was to have a fight with Andy Carroll,” he jokes, but really it is the result of throwing himself around in training in preparation for the new season with his new club. It is a fitting visual metaphor for a player looking to take the Premier League by storm for a second time in his career, bruised but unbowed after his cold war with Pep Guardiola.
Not that Hart is desperate to comb through the wreckage of his relationship with Manchester City. There are new challenges to focus on in east London, after all, with Europe the aim for a new-look Irons side.
“That’s gone. I’m not part of that club anymore,” says the 30-year-old when asked if he will be trying to prove a point to Guardiola this term. “I’m trying to make a point to Slaven Bilic. I’m trying to make a point to Gareth Southgate. They’re my coaches. They’re the people whose opinions I care about.
“My feelings towards Manchester City will never change. I’m grateful to them as a football club. They took me as a 19-year-old boy from Shrewsbury Town, took a punt on me, and I’ve had some fantastic times there, built some great relationships. The fans have been so supportive of me, even in the past year.
The England international has moved to the London Stadium on loan (Getty)
“I’ll eternally have a link with them, but as far as the business side of it goes – new managers, opinions, stuff like that – that’s football. There’s no point taking it too personally because it’s not all about me. Plenty of people have been in my situation and you’ve got two choices: moan about it and make smart comments, or just get on with it. I chose the latter.
“I have had to put things to one side, take a few things on the chin, and dig in and work. But luckily that’s who I am, it’s what I love doing. Working hard isn’t a problem for me. That’s what I’ll keep doing until my body won’t let me.”
Hart made no secret of his preference for a permanent move rather than another loan this summer, but found a tough market waiting for him when he returned from Serie A. He is, however, clearly delighted that West Ham have offered him a route back to the Premier League.
Hart spent last season on loan at Torino (Getty)
“That was my ideal situation: I wanted to sign a permanent deal somewhere so I could set my life up and have a direction,” he continues.” But there weren’t too many options, if any. If a club wants a certain amount of money and people aren’t necessarily willing to pay it…
“It wasn’t to be, and West Ham have been fantastic towards me. I couldn’t be any more grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me. I’m over the moon to be part of this club. There wasn’t an awful lot of movement this summer, goalkeeper-wise, so I’m very grateful.”
So what of his year in Italy? Has it improved him as a player and as a man? “It certainly broadened my horizons. It helped me to learn a different way of living and brought some new styles of football to me… different ideas, a different manager. I’d like to think it’s helped me.
The keeper is already enjoying life at West Ham (Getty)
“But I want to be learning and improving all the time, no matter where I am. I’d like to think I’m a better keeper than when I walked through the doors here a couple of weeks ago.”
Now back in the “best league in the world”, Hart is keen to get started, with a trip to Old Trafford first up on Sunday. It’s a tricky first assignment, but the goalkeeper is hopeful that West Ham will be able to take their enforced mini-exile in their stride in the weeks ahead.
“We knew the World Athletics (Championships) were going to be at the stadium, so we’re mentally ready to play away from home,” he adds. “We’re looking to set ourselves up for that fourth game, to be in a good position to really enjoy our first home game. I know the West Ham fans are going to be dying for us to play at home, so we need to put them in the right mood when that time does come.”