Joe Hart heads for Torino but is not the first to seek Italian renaissance

British players do not always thrive in Serie A and the England goalkeeper will hope to be one of the success stories in a country where the fans can be much more demanding

At least somebody loves Joe Hart. Whereas he was frozen out of Manchester City at a speed that would surprise even gelato manufacturers, the England international was met by rapturous crowds on his arrival in Turin on Tuesday. The new Torino goalkeeper wore sunglasses that Marcello Mastroianni would have been proud of and posed, perhaps inadvisedly, with a T-shirt celebrating the club’s Granata Ultras. Welcome to Serie A, Joe.

In choosing to join Torino Hart becomes part of a select, if not always successful, group. The 34th British player to sign for an Italian club since the second world war, Hart follows in the footsteps of not just John Charles but also Jay Bothroyd. While David Platt made his reputation in Serie A, Des Walker almost contrived to blow it. And for every cult hero – a Trevor Francis or Paul Ince – there is at least one who has left with a good riddance. And yes, that includes Paul Gascoigne, described by one Italian journalist as “one of the worst buys since the war”.

Before making the decision to move Hart consulted his friend and former City team-mate Micah Richards. The Aston Villa defender spent a season at Fiorentina two years ago and loved it. “He asked me about Italy and I told him it’s probably the best country you can go to,” Richards told the Guardian. “It was one of the best experiences in my life. Obviously I got to live in Florence, an amazing city, but the people were really welcoming, really nice, and made me feel right at home.”

One of the biggest things Hart will have to contend with, says Richards, is the change in footballing culture. “It’s a lot different to England,” he says. “It is much more tactical – everyone knows their jobs. In Italy they will always play an older player who has more experience than a younger one who wants to express themselves. Every day in training you work on tactics, you work on shape. On the other hand it’s not so physical. It helped my game, though. I like to get up and down but they helped me to know when to hold my position.”

The former England international Tony Dorigo, who played for Torino in the 1997-98 season, knows better than most what Hart is getting into. He says it is not just the culture on the pitch that Hart will have to adjust to. “It’s really intense, extremely intense, it’s absolutely crazy,” he says. “I remember once when we lost a match at home and the following day the fans stormed the training ground. We had to fly somewhere else to train and then stay there for the entire week. The fans give you great power when they get behind you, but you feel the pressure all the time.”

Dorigo, now a pundit for BT Sport’s Serie A coverage, believes that Hart will be busy in his new role. Although Torino competed in the Europa League last season they finished a disappointing 12th in Serie A. This summer the manager, Giampero Ventura, left to replace Antonio Conte as the Italy coach, with Sinisa Mijhailovic replacing him. “It looks as if they will end up getting rid of three of their four best defenders this summer,” says Dorigo. “So Hart will get plenty of work. Torino are a club that have to change a lot. They get good players but they have to sell them too.”

Torino’s association with British football runs longer than most, dating back to the 1960s and the signing of Joe Baker and Denis Law. Two of the most promising forwards in Britain, Baker and Law were also only 21 years old. The pair acquired a reputation as young men about town. Constantly followed by paparazzi, Baker famously assaulted one then, on another fateful night, crashed his Aston Martin into a statue of Garibaldi. He and Law survived the crash but their careers in Italy were soon over.

Joe Hart arrives to a rapturous reception in Turin after confirming his season’s loan move to Torino from Manchester City.
Joe Hart arrives to a rapturous reception in Turin after confirming his season’s loan move to Torino from Manchester City. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

John Foot, in his history of Italian football, Calcio, describes the careers of British footballers that went a similar way, from Jimmy Greaves to Gascoigne. Greaves had gone to Italy only because of England’s maximum wage and, as soon as the rule was overturned, felt homesick. Gazza, meanwhile, was known not only for his drinking and tendency towards injury but also for his bad manners, notoriously answering one journalist’s question with a big burp.

The problem, as Foot sees it, was with the fact that such high standards had been set by British football’s first great export, John Charles. The Gentle Giant who played for Juventus for six years from 1957-63 is still remembered fondly in Turin.

“John Charles remains the model against which all foreign players – and especially British players – have been measured,” says Foot. “He was an exemplary figure on the field and off the field where he was known for being modest, generous and ‘good’. No other British player has come close.” Foot adds a coda, observing that another well-mannered export also left a good impression. “My advice to British players in Italy is don’t get drunk. It’s bad publicity and conforms to stereotypes. One person who was quite good there was David Beckham.”

But Hart is part of a mini-revival of Britons looking for an Italian job. Ashley Cole, Nathaniel Chalobah and Richards have played in Serie A in the past three seasons and, at the time of writing, Ravel Morrison remains on Lazio’s books. For Richards this trend will continue. “It’s not that people don’t want to go away,” he says. “But you’re in your comfort zone in the Premier League. But now that more Champions League places are going to be guaranteed [from 2018-19] I think loads of players will want to give it a go.”

Dorigo, meanwhile, has one final piece of advice for England’s number one as he embarks on a new chapter in his career. “Move to Moncalieri,” he says. “It’s a beautiful village 10 miles outside the city. And when you wake up, the first things you see are the Alps.”


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

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