Joe Hart helped Celtic to win trophies
Joe Hart helped Celtic to win trophies

From criticism, mockery to self-belief — The Joe Hart story

There were many moments in his penultimate week as a professional footballer when you could see just how much Joe Hart loved being at Celtic.

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From emotional interviews to walking up the Celtic Way with the Scottish Premiership trophy in his hand and a broad grin across his face.

From emerging from the tunnel at half-time in the club's final league game of the season to see a giant Tifo of himself and just standing in awe of it.

To his address to the fans on the pitch afterwards.

"Guys, I've never felt professionally special like that before in my life," he said.

"Myself, my family, from the bottom of my heart I adore every single one of you and everyone associated with this football club."

From a man who won the Premier League title twice - including one amid the delirium of the Sergio Aguero moment - and played 75 times for England, it's quite the statement.

But the truth is Hart needed Celtic. His career story before arriving in Glasgow began with a soaring rise to the top of the English game before a crude fall.

He said in 2020, external when a free agent that "I just want to be a big part of a club and give my all to them. That’s all that burns through me”.

Celtic gave him that and more. Six trophies and counting, a whole lot of love, and a happy ending to a bumpy career. A career that will end with last Saturday's Scottish Cup final against Rangers at Hampden.

From phenomenon to heavy fall

So what of Hart's legacy? As a player he scaled English football from Shrewsbury Town to Manchester City, and with it came trophies and four Golden Glove awards.

At his pomp he was a shot-stopping force of nature. Lionel Messi, no less, called him "a phenomenon" in 2015 after an astonishing display in the Champions League against Barcelona.

But just as critical as the saves in people's impressions of Hart, was his character. His seemingly bulletproof confidence, his child-like grin as he berated and joked with strikers.

However, it was what came after which threatened to define him. Pep Guardiola's rejection of all of that - and particularly his distribution - when he arrived at City clearly shattered his confidence.

It culminated in a miserable Euro 2016 campaign, when mistakes against Wales then Iceland made him one of the faces of England's most humiliating moment.

Hart became a figure of criticism, mockery and, perhaps worst of all, pity. A cautionary tale to the next generation of players not to get too big for their boots.

After drifting around Torino, West Ham United, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur, his career was petering out.

One of the things that will define Hart is the way he addressed what happened to him in those years.

In 2020, he opened up about struggling with his mental health throughout his career, while always keeping his own struggles in perspective with others.

"I didn’t really know how to handle tough moments, you just want to bat everyone away," he said. "Like, 'I'm fine, leave me, I'm fine just leave me'."

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Through maturity and the help of a sports psychologist he says he learned to manage those periods better.

"I used to get chipped and get angry, now I get chipped and say well done," Hart joked after last week's 3-2 win over St Mirren.

Resilience marks final chapter

Hart's final chapter came when Ange Postecoglou asked if he fancied coming up to Celtic in 2021.

The club had a goalkeeping crisis the year before as they lost the league to Rangers with three different men playing between the sticks.

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Postecoglou picked up the pieces and wanted stability.

"I just felt he's still got a bit to prove," the Australian later explained.

"He's said himself, he needed a bit of love, and I knew he'd get it at this club. I knew the supporters would embrace him and he loved it here with the group."

Postecoglou was proved right. Hart went on to great success, including a domestic treble last season, and third Scottish title in a row this term.

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It has not been easy. Questions have always lingered about his ability to play out from the back, and there have been mistakes.

Even in his retirement announcement, he hinted he wanted to end questions about him potentially being replaced this summer by announcing he was quitting anyway.

But there have also been huge saves and, most prominently, leadership coupled with passion and total commitment.

"The guy's been unbelievable since the day he walked in the door," club captain Callum McGregor said.

"He's been a real pillar of strength. He came in and set the tone and I'm buzzing we can give him the send off he deserves."

So as Hart prepares to play his final game, against Rangers in the Scottish Cup final on Saturday, how do we sum up such a rich career?

It was encapsulated in his role in getting Celtic to Hampden, in the shootout against Aberdeen in the semi-final last month.

Hart had the confidence to step up and take what could have been the winning penalty. He missed, with a smile - or perhaps grimace - and a wink to go with it.

However, he had the final word by flinging himself to his left to save Killian Phillips' effort to send Celtic through. Resilience again.

"Whatever has happened, the one thing he has always had as part of his make-up is confidence," Hart's former Manchester City team-mate Shay Given told BBC Sport.

"You need to have that self-belief to have a career like he has done.

"As a goalkeeper you get plenty knocks, not just from your managers but when you make mistakes. It is a lonely position because you are out there on your own.

"Joe has made mistakes, like we all have. But it is how you respond and he has been brilliant at keeping a level head through good and bad times – that has never changed."–BBC

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