Joe Hart appeared to bid an emotional farewell to Manchester City on Wednesday night as he spoke for the first time about being discarded by Pep Guardiola.
The England goalkeeper kept a clean sheet as City confirmed their place in the Champions League group stages with a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest, with the imminent signing of £17million Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo set to push him down to third choice at the Etihad.
Hart was named captain for the night and was constantly cheered by City fans, who rose in the 65th minute to launch into a chorus of ‘Stand up if you love Joe Hart’.
Joe Hart acknowledges Manchester City’s fans following the 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest
Joe Hart grabs the City badge and applauds the fans after making his first start of the season
Pep Guardiola, pictured speaking with John Stones, is willing to let Hart leave this summer
The 29-year-old clutched the badge on his shirt and saluted all four sides of the stadium at the final whistle, with his departure now almost certain before the transfer window closes next week.
He said: ‘It was a special night for me. This is a special place for me and there has never been any secret of that. Situations occur in football but we’re men and we get on with it. But tonight was really nice. I had a lump in my throat.
‘I appreciate the people of Manchester City and it turns out they appreciate me. So it’s a nice feeling.
‘It’s a situation, you know. We have a top manager the club have wanted a long time and who has an opinion on things. Outside of all the circus, we are handling it well. It is what it is.’
Hart’s diplomatic mask slipped briefly when told about his 100 per cent pass completion rate – 16 out of 16 – against Steaua.
A Manchester City fan shows her support for Hart with a homemade sign at the Etihad
Hart rolls the ball to a team-mate during what might have been his last appearance for City
Hart blows a kiss towards one end at the Etihad after being given a brilliant reception
‘Wow, pigs do fly,’ quipped Hart, aware his 10-year career at City is over because Guardiola doesn’t think he is good enough with the ball at his feet.
Bravo, watching from the stands, will be under huge pressure as Hart’s replacement and Guardiola admitted he can’t rely on the fans to understand his move to axe the club’s longest-serving player.
‘I know Joe is a legend for this club,’ said Guardiola. ‘One of the reasons this club has won the Premier League twice and cups is because of Joe. He helped create this team and take it to a new level.
‘But I am here to take decisions. I have made a lot of mistakes in my career but I try to be honest.
‘I was honest with Joe, I was honest with the club and all the players in the squad.
‘I have to take decisions. I can not deny what I feel. If the fans are happy, or not happy, I can understand it. I can’t tell them how to feel.
Fabian Delph (left) celebrates with Nolito after opening the scoring against Steaua Bucharest
Delph gets ahead of his man to give City a commanding 6-0 lead on aggregate
‘He has done more for Manchester City than I have managed in a month. I am so happy with how the people treated him tonight and how they love him as a player.’
City and Hart’s representatives will now work overtime to try and get the 29-year-old a loan or permanent move away before August 31. But it won’t be easy unless City agree to subsidise his £130,000-a-week wages.
City, who won on Wednesday night with a second-half header by Fabian Delph, will be in the draw for the Champions League today and that’s what is arguably even more important for Guardiola.
‘It’s a time to celebrate,’ he said after watching his side complete a 6-0 aggregate victory over the Romanians.
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