LEGENDARY Celtic keeper Pat Bonner reckons Joe Hart faces a make-or-break period in the early stages of Brendan Rodgers’ return.
The 36-year-old former England No.1 is entering the final 12 months of his Hoops contract after joining the champions in a cut-price £1million switch from Spurs in August 2021.
Ironically, Ange Postecoglou, the manager who bought the 75 times-capped netminder and gave him a quickfire debut, is now at the North London club after quitting Parkhead 48 hours after the Scottish Cup win that sealed the world record eighth treble.
IN THE PICTURE…Joe Hart proudly holds aloft the Scottish Cup after Celtic had sealed a world record eighth treble.
Hart has played a major part in the team’s revival that saw the club lift five out of six domestic honours up for grabs in the two years since his shift to Scotland.
Postecoglou kept faith with his experienced last line of defence after ditching Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain, but Bonner wonders if Rodgers will continue with the veteran shotstopper.
Pep Guardiola brought his glittering Manchester City career to an unexpected halt in 2016 when he dumped the England star and brought in Brazilian Ederson from Benfica a year later.
It was reasoned the Etihad chief preferred the South American to Hart because of his ability with the ball at his feet. The Spanish superstar boss insists on his teams playing out from the back and Ederson is one of the best in the world with his range of passing to such as extent Guardiola has said he could play him in midfield.
Bonner, who won 80 caps for the Republic of Ireland, reckons Rodgers could be tempted to bring in another last line of defence for the same reasons.
HAVING A BALL…Pat Bonner sets another attack in motion.
The iconic Celt, 63, said: “It’s going to be a big season for Joe Hart. Joe fitted in really well into Ange’s team, he made some mistakes along the way which all goalkeepers will do, but I don’t think he was asked as many times to build the game the way that maybe Brendan would want.
“Is he capable of playing from the back? Pep came into Manchester City and didn’t allow him to get the opportunity because his analysis was he couldn’t do it, so he changed and that affected his confidence big time.
“I think he’s done exceptionally well coming up here.
“He’s a leader in the dressing room, he makes the big saves and the right moment which is a critical part to play for Celtic and Rangers. You need to make big saves when you haven’t been overly active in the game.
“But the part of the game that we all know is about 70 or 80 per cent of your actions now is with the ball at your feet.”
Bonner, speaking to BBC Sportsound, added: “Joe has done okay with it. Is he capable of doing it under Brendan where there might be a much greater demand?
“That’s the big question.
AIR WE GO…Joe Hart safely gathers a high ball as Scott Arfield challenges.
“I think he’s better than maybe some of them we’ve seen in the past. But is he up to the level that Brendan wants?
“Listen, Brendan brought in Dorus de Vries from Nottingham Forest because of his feet and he couldn’t keep the ball out of the net. So it’s a balance.”
Hart has been first choice since his arrival and Postecoglou added Benji Siegrist to his squad when he joined after leaving Dundee United last summer. Scott Bain is No.3 in the pecking order.
Quadruple treble hero Conor Hazard is on the brink of a switch to Plymouth Argyle which will bring his nine-year association with the Hoops to an end. He has previously had loan spells at Finnish champions HJK Helsinki, Ross County, Partick Thistle and Dundee.