Milan (AFP) – England goalkeeper Joe Hart was given a rousing welcome by ecstatic Torino fans Tuesday as he held up the team’s jersey ahead of signing a season-long loan with the unfashionable Serie A club.
Hart, 29, fell out of favour with new coach Pep Guardiola at Manchester City following the signing of Claudio Bravo from Barcelona and has caused general surprise by joining Torino in a bid to preserve his international career following England’s spectacular Euro 2016 exit.
Television pictures earlier showed Hart arriving at the city’s Caselle airport and the ‘keeper on a balcony in the city centre holding up a Torino shirt with his name emblazoned on the back.
Although Torino have yet to make an official announcement, Hart’s agent earlier told Tuttosport: “Yes, Joe Hart will play at Torino. It’s a done deal. He has said ‘yes’ to the club and now Manchester City have given the OK.”
Hart becomes only the third English goalkeeper to play in Italy’s top flight and the first since 1929/30, an era in which English players — some of whom helped lay the foundations of some of Italy’s biggest clubs — were prevalent in the country’s top flight.
Prior to Hart, James Richardson Spensley played for Genoa at the turn of the 20th century, when Hoberlin Hood turned out between the posts for AC Milan.
It is considered a major coup for Torino, who have been given a boost in their bid to secure a place in next season’s Europa League, especially with City agreeing to pay a significant portion of Hart’s annual salary of 3.3m pounds (4.2m euro).
Hart, meanwhile, has the chance to gain valuable experience in one of the world’s toughest league in terms of tactics.
He is expected to take the gloves from Daniele Padelli, who has failed to impress coach Sinisa Mihajlovic since he arrived at the club several months after his sacking by AC Milan last season.
It would allow Hart to rebuild confidence following a disastrous Euro 2016 campaign for England, who saw hopes of contending for the title undone during a sensational 2-1 last 16 defeat to Iceland that pre-empted the resignation of manager Roy Hodgson.
Hart was considered to be amongst the key culprits after making errors against Wales and Iceland, but if he expected to find succour in the comfort of his Premiership club he was wrong.
When Guardiola signed Bravo from Barcelona, Hart lost his number one spot.
To retain his place as England ‘keeper, Hart needs regular football in a season that will see the Three Lions begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in a Group F featuring Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.
But Hart, who will be keen to avoid the fate of the many English players who failed to make an impact in Serie A, has reason for apprehension.
One of Mihajloivoc’s first decisions at Milan was to hand 16-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma his Serie A debut, leading to the contentious demotion of experienced Spaniard Diego Lopez.
Donnarumma, widely expected to succeed Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon as Italy’s number one some time in the future, remains Milan’s first choice ‘keeper.
Media reports said the option of looking to sign Hart came through Attilio Lombardo, the former Sampdoria winger who was Roberto Mancini’s assistant at Manchester City and is now Mihajlovic’s assistant at Torino.
Hart could make his Torino debut on September 11 when the ‘Granata’ face Atalanta in Bergamo.
Mihajlovic’s men have made a mixed start to the campaign, following their 3-2 opening defeat to Milan at the San Siro with a 5-1 demolition of Bologna that saw new Italy call-up Andrea Belotti hit a hat-trick.