Hong Kong Soccer Sevens: David James says his friend Joe Hart’s England World Cup squad snub is ‘disappointing’
England’s 2010 World Cup number one James admits picking Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope over Hart ‘makes sense’
Joe Hart has admitted that being left out of the World Cup squad is “hard to take” – and he has had some backing from the old England contingent who are out here playing in Hong Kong for the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens.
“I would [take him] because he’s my mate,” said former England number one David James, smiling.
The ex-Liverpool stopper became the World Cup’s oldest debutant in 2010 in South Africa, and certainly values experience within a national squad.
“I’m disappointed that Joe didn’t make it – as a friend – but I can see the footballing reasons behind it.
“There’s an argument for it with Joe’s experience but at the same time, if you’ve been the number one for three tournaments and then you go as number two then there’s a question on how your mentality is going to be.”
The 47-year-old is in Hong Kong representing PlayOn Pros, a global network aiding professional athletes transition into retirement.
James’ team lost 4-3 to SCC Masters in the Plate final, with James scoring a stunning outside-the-box consolation goal right at the death.
England boss Gareth Southgate insisted this week the young 23-man World Cup squad he has picked is not a gamble, reassuring the experienced Hart it was “not the end of the road” despite picking 26-year-old Burnley keeper Nick Pope over him.
Everton’s 24-year-old Jordan Pickford is widely expected to be number one in Russia.
“It makes sense; Pope has been playing regular Premier League football so he deserve the opportunity,” said James, manager of Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters.
“Unfortunately for Joe he hasn’t been playing regularly over the last four to five months – to the point he wasn’t involved in the last few games of the season. If you’re trying to put a squad together, you not only need the experience but the game time.
“Pickford has had a good season and I think is England’s number one now. It’s his position to lose.”
Hart, 31, is out of favour at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and spent the last two seasons on loan to Italian Serie A side Torino and West Ham.
While initially getting regular first-team football, the former England number one has been largely underwhelming and has contributed to the Hammers’ leaky defensive record.
West Ham conceded the joint-highest number of goals this season with 68, which may have factored into Southgate’s thinking.
However, ex-England international Peter Reid would have done things differently.
“It’s a really bold decision by Southgate – I’m not sure I’d have been as brave,” said the 61-year-old former Manchester City and Sunderland manager.
“The lack of experience with the goalkeepers concerns me. [Southgate] has decided against Joe Hart so we’ve got to go with it.
“I might have Joe in the squad just as a fallback, but that’s the way he’s done it.”
The other much-discussed omission was Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, whose creativity may have been useful in unlocking defences in Russia.
The injury-plagued midfielder played his first full 90 minutes in three years last December and made 38 appearances in total during Arsene Wenger’s last season in charge.
But Reid believes opting against Wilshere, 26, was a wise move and gives the third-youngest England World Cup squad a chance to defy the odds.
“I think [Wilshere] hasn’t played the games and they’re not taking the chance. There are some good midfield players – Southgate has taken a chance with one or two – but you can only pick so many,” he said.
“It’s a young squad, inexperienced, and they’ll go in there with no fear. If we get to the quarter-finals we’ll have done well.
“Once we get against the big boys I’m not sure whether we’re good enough. Brazil will be hard to beat, Spain are going to be real tough, Germany, Argentina … but the young play with no fear – you never know.”
James is equally optimistic and places trust in Southgate’s squad.
“Gareth is not worried about bringing in young players – he knows most of this squad already from his under-21 managerial experience with England,” said James.