When Joe Hart moved to Tottenham Hotspur as a third-choice goalkeeper in August last year, it highlighted his willingness to accept a reduced role at a prominent club to remain at the highest level.
An international stopper of repute, who once appeared set to follow in the footsteps of Peter Shilton and earn 100 England caps, had been reduced to a minor role as a squad player in his early 30s.
Hart’s trophy-laden career looked to be petering out, but his determination to force through a transfer to Celtic emphasised his desire to end a miserable spell in the wilderness.
Errors have plagued Hart’s game since Pep Guardiola unceremoniously axed him at Manchester City, yet the fragility that accelerated his high-profile slide has been absent north of the border.
Hart possesses the required talent to don the gloves at Celtic Park, but his forceful personality is equally important. His confident demeanour is a calming influence on those around him, and he's the voice of authority in a new-look backline seeking direction.
The Englishman’s organisational skills have been a factor in Celtic becoming, unexpectedly, the tightest defence in the Premiership – and the summer arrival has racked up the most shutouts in the league. He demands high standards, and his teammates are following his lead.
A series of goalkeeping calamities contributed to Celtic's woes last season. Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain both endured a torrid time, but the constant chopping and changing did little to help the situation. It was an issue that needed urgently addressed, and the arrival of Hart, a steady performer, has brought stability to a problem position.
Celtic goalkeepers often encounter long periods of inactivity during the 90 minutes, and Hart has repeatedly shown his worth when called into action. The 34-year-old was a spectator for much of the Premiership clash with Motherwell last weekend, but, with the match still goalless, he made an excellent reflex-stop to ensure a clean sheet in an eventual victory.
Ange Postecoglou’s commitment to a fast-paced style places additional pressure on his number one. Hart performs a sweeper-keeper role in the system deployed by the Australian, and it puts his distribution in the spotlight.
Hart has embraced Postecoglou's methods, regularly championing his manager’s beliefs, but he looks uneasy with the ball at his feet. He is yet to encounter danger whilst orchestrating play, but trouble never seems far away.
It is assumed that Hart’s starting berth will remain guaranteed for as long as he keeps making vital saves. On current form, that will remain the case but it seems inevitable Postecoglou will eventually recruit a goalkeeper more in sync with his philosophy.
Five years ago, Guardiola’s main concern with Hart was his ability in possession. The Spaniard did not believe he had the passing range necessary to play a prominent role in his team - and he could encounter a similar issue at Celtic.
In the meantime though, Hart has the chance to capture silverware at Hampden Park this weekend. Celtic challenge Hibernian in the Premier Sports Cup final, and it provides the Englishman with an opportunity to enter to the winner’s enclosure for the first time in five seasons.
Success on Sunday will not lead to a clamour for Hart to be recalled to the England squad and add to his 75 caps - his time in the international arena is over - but it would be a personal highlight after a period of stagnation.
At 34, Hart is too good and too young to simply be an able deputy. After years of derision, he is finally flourishing again in an environment where he feels valued in the dressing room and appreciated on the terraces.
He is eager to make the most of his Scottish adventure, and holding a trophy aloft on Sunday would be another step forward in his revival.
*18+ | BeGambleAware