JOE HART has paid tribute to his rival at Manchester City, Shay Given, as he prepares to make his competitive debut for England, claiming he is happy the Ireland No 1 has decided to stay and fight for his place at Eastlands.
Hart, 23, and Given, 34, are going head-to-head for the goalkeeper’s jersey at City after Given opted not to leave the club on loan at the end of the transfer window.
It was a big decision for the Donegal man who has 104 caps for his country but who faces spending a season on the bench for his club if he cannot persuade City manager Roberto Mancini to make him first choice.
With so much at stake you could have forgiven the two goalkeepers for keeping a healthy distance from each other at the start of the new season but in fact Hart, who also appears to be Fabio Capello’s new England No 1 and who is preparing to face Bulgaria in a UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier tomorrow, has turned to his team-mate for help.
“It’s great news that Shay is staying,” he said.
“I don’t want to say too much about it because it was Shay’s situation to deal with. I have no doubt he would have had endless people wanting him but it is not quite as simple as saying ‘I want to go there’ and turning up.
“But he has been fantastic for me – I can’t speak highly enough of the guy. I respect him and look up to him in so many ways, not only as a keeper but as a person and a professional. I admire everything about the way he is. I love working with him.”
Remarkably Hart and Given, who was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal, have been able to maintain a steady relationship despite the complicated situation surrounding them.
Last season Given was very much first choice at City with Hart sent out on loan to Birmingham and seemingly out of the equation, but suddenly things have changed. Hart was named as England’s third-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup and clearly did enough to persuade Mancini he has the potential to be his club’s number one for many years to come, taking over the jersey during pre-season.
It’s a worrying time for Given but even so Hart believes the two have been able to remain close.
He said: “We were quite open about the situation and we both respected each other in the fact it was not our decision.
“It was not like we were being malicious towards each other. We both wanted to play and left it down to the manager. That’s how it was basically.
“I was chosen for the opening games but it doesn’t really need to be discussed.
“It would solve nothing if we did so.
“We both need to do as best as we can and we supported each other as best we could as well which was great.” Hart remains confident he can stay ahead of Given throughout the season but there may be light at the end of the tunnel for his rival after the Englishman admitted Mancini has given him no guarantees about his position.
“Even now it is not really clear,” he said. “I am playing now, which is great, but there is Shay Given not playing who is a huge keeper who has done well for years and years and is so well respected that I’ve got to be on my toes to keep my place and make it my own.
“I thought about it in the summer because I just wanted to play. Sitting on the bench just doesn’t interest me because of the way I am and the way I enjoy football. If Shay was in possession, then I would have looked elsewhere but luckily enough for now I’m playing and I just want to enjoy that. I just have to perform consistently.
“It works well for both of us because Shay will be pushing hard to get into the team and I’ll be pushing hard to stay in the team.”
The situation certainly works well for Hart but how long it will suit Given, who will play for Ireland in Armenia tomorrow, remains to be seen.
The next transfer window is, after all, only four months away.
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