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BURNLEY, Joe HART: "I dealt with City drop through mental health help"

26.05.2020 17.47 by Claudio Colla  read 303
© foto di Federico Gaetano

Meant to leave Burnley on a free move, after two unfortunate seasons spent playing for Clarets, former English international goalkeeper Joe Hart (33) released a long and detailed interview to The Guardian: 

“Not being picked for the starting eleven hurts, of course. But I embrace that feeling. I’m glad I feel like that, because you need that fire in you. You almost need that arrogance to think: 'Why am I not being picked?’ The reason that I’m at the top fighting, or have been at the top, is because that’s in me. And It’s even got stronger. This lockdown made me realise how much I want to play football. All I want to do is be a big part of something. I understand I’m not going to be part of Real Madrid. I don’t think I’ve lost the ability, but I know how football works. I just want to be a big part of a club, and give my all to them. That’s all that burns through me.

When Pellegrini left me out of City team, back in 2013/14, I didn’t really know how to handle tough moments. You just want to bat everyone away: ‘I’m fine. Just leave me alone.’ It was really frustrating me and a bit of anger came in. Then my place came under threat for the first time. The immediate reaction in my head was: ‘This can’t be happening. They can’t take me out of the team.’ I tried to train more. Be more aggressive. I was searching, clutching. My agent suggested I talked to a sports psychologist, who calmed me down by asking: ‘Do you know how to go in goal?’ I said: ‘Of course.’ He went: ‘It’s not that then, is it?’ It turned out it was new goalkeeper coaches trying different styles. It made me realise I was going to cost the team the title, if I carried on in goal. Instead of smashing my way through a problem, I needed to take stock.

I had a good relationship with the manager, and we decided to get myself right away from football so that, when I came back, I could just enjoy playing again. That’s when I’m at my best. After five or six games I was back in.

Yeah, I see Jamie on a regular basis. He’s become a huge part of my life and someone I’ll always work with. Having a sports psychologist helped me realise that you can definitely lighten the load if you lean on people. It’s so empowering when you open up. Now I’m going to try, and get back in the team. And if I don’t, there’s always another transfer opportunity. There’s no point in sulking. I’m still part of the squad. It gives you some power if you have a dialogue with the manager. It’s important to have that when you’re doing well. But it’s even more important when you’re not doing well.

I want people who haven’t experienced any adversity in football to learn from this. It’s all very well riding the wave but it won’t last for ever. Every professional I’ve spoken to, has had this ride where nothing can go wrong. Inevitably, it’s hard to maintain. How we react is something I’m keen on trying to help people with – giving them the tools to deal with those situations.”

Being on the bench as a goalkeeper is a lonely place which few people understand. “It is hard but I’m going to be on a [BBC] programme with guys who have real problems. My last PL game on the pitch? I remember every second of that. I spoke to Sean [Dyche] after he dropped me, because I felt I’d have a strong season. The results weren’t great, but we were in transition going into Europe. We were trying to play more football, and it didn’t really work. He just said: ‘Look, Joe, I think you’ve been fantastic, but for the good of the team I need to try this one last change.’ Tom [Heaton] came in and did great. The team picked up, and went back to their old ways. It’s been tough. That’s no secret. Pure game-time is difficult because, with the greatest respect to Burnley, they’re not a cup team. Staying in the Premier League is all important. It’s just not my time right now. But I’m determined it will come again.

Before being loaned to Torino, back then, I made sure to talk to Guardiola. I certainly backed myself to the hilt when we spoke. I listened to what he had to say. There’s more to it than me not being as good with my feet as he wants from a goalkeeper. I realised he needed to make his stamp at City. He had a direction he wanted to go, and he’s not exactly struggled since, has he? I was fairly concerned. Lots of important people tried to reassure me. But you just have a feeling, don’t you? I came back late from the 2016 Euros, and he made it clear when I got there that I needed to be out by that window. That’s Pep’s brilliance. He makes decisions and stands by them. I don’t dislike him. We get on as men and we both love football.

Torino? I enjoyed being part of that club. In terms of being in a different country, experiencing a different culture, playing a different league, I absolutely loved it. It’s definitely something I’d love to do again. Are there clubs looking to sign me next season? I believe there will be. But they all need to work out exactly what the hell’s going on. I like to think I’m a good catch. I’m on a free contract, I’ve got experience and real hunger. The Premier League has been great for me but I’m more than willing to spread my wings.

I’m totally open, to any opportunity coming around. I just want to play at the highest level I can. In England, I don’t feel I am going to be able to do that. Maybe if I hadn’t achieved what I’ve done in this league I might not be so ready to step away. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have another big chance in England, but it could be difficult.

We’re back training and we’ve got another Covid test tomorrow. This will be the process until we can move forward. It’s a really interesting time. We’re all involved in this once-in-a-lifetime thing. Right now, the most important thing is health, and helping people that are putting their lives on the line. As long as those guys are looked after, then maybe we’ve got a chance of playing football".

During the lockdown, his interest in psychology has been deepened by watching The Last Dance – about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls: “I am fascinated by human beings and elite sport. I’ve been blown away by the Jordan documentary. What a beast. What a man. What a one-off mindset. It must have been painful to be that direct and aggressive every day. He absolutely took it to a new level.”

Hart has also been savouring the simple pleasures of life away from the bench, while supporting Prince William’s mental health campaign. “For our mental health it’s so important to talk about the times we’re feeling good. There are two sides to mental health. Obviously the dark depths are very important. But you need to appreciate when you’re happy and savour the small little smiles, the small little shivers. One of the greatest things for me is to help people. It can be a simple conversation. Are you OK? Are you all right? I’m looking for a future role where you invest in people and bring the best out of them. Those are the most important moments in life”.

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