ITALIAN legend Gianluigi Buffon has hailed Celtic comeback keeper Joe Hart.
The universally-acclaimed netminder, who made 176 appearances for his country at the highest level, insists it is “no surprise” to him the 34-year-old 75 times-capped England international shotstopper has had a new lease of life at Parkhead.
Hart arrived as part of Ange Postecoglou’s monumental squad rebuild when he agreed a three-year deal in a £1million switch from Spurs where he had rarely figured for two years. It had been a similar tale in a season at Burnley.
In effect, he had been told he had no future at the London club by Portuguese boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who, ironically, only lasted four months in the job before he got the boot to be replaced by Antonio Conte.
BEST OF ENEMIES…Joe Hart and Gianluigi Buffon on international duty for their countries.
However, the former Manchester City star has silenced his critics with a series of excellent performances as part of the team’s phenomenal rise from the wreckage of the previous campaign where the side limped home without silverware for the first time in 11 years.
The last line of defence became the No.1 problem with Greek international Vasilis Barkas proving to be a £4.5million misfit after his big-money arrival from AEK Athens. Stand-ins Scott Bain and Connor Hazard struggled for consistency.
Buffon, the Juventus icon and Italy World Cup hero, said: “The way Joe is playing this season is no surprise to me because he has always been a great goalkeeper. He just needed a place to call home again.
“He is a player I watched develop and I saw he had everything that was needed to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
“It was not that long ago that I called him one of the top three or four goalkeepers in the world.
“Along with Manuel Neuer, David De Gea and Jan Oblak, these guys were the next generation who could take over from myself and Iker Casillas.
“That player who was No.1 for Manchester City and England didn’t go away. He just needed to find his confidence again.”
ROARING SUCCESS…comeback keeper Joe Hart savours the moment after helping Celtic win the Premier Sports League Cup against Hibs six days before Christmas.
WORLD CLASS…Gianluigi Buffon is still playing at the age of 44.
Buffon, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “I have always said you have to be a little bit crazy to be a goalkeeper because you are so isolated.
“As a defender, you are part of a defence. As a midfielder, part of a midfield. But the goalkeeper is the isolated player on the field.
“You make a mistake and all eyes are on you. That is what happened with Joe.
“He made a couple of mistakes and people just decided he was not top level anymore.
“He needed a bit of love to find his level again and he has obviously got that love at Celtic.
“The top player is back and it is good to see.”
At 44, Buffoon is a decade older than Hart and is still playing for Serie B outfit Parma, his first senior team before his move to Turin in 2001.
He recently agreed a new deal which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2024.
Follow that, Joe Hart!