Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has admitted he felt for former goalkeeper Joe Hart after ending his decorated City career in one of his first acts as the club’s coach.
The England number one returns to the Etihad with Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday two months after formally ending his time at City after loan spells at Torino and West Ham.
Hart won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups during his time with City before Guardiola took charge in July 2016.
Still well thought of at City, Hart returned on Thursday for a small ceremony to mark the naming of a training pitch in his honour, with the club also giving him a mosaic in thanks for his service.
“During his 12 years with the club, Joe not only produced some incredible individual displays, but also celebrated great success as a member of the club’s most decorated team in decades,” said City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak in a statement.
Guardiola’s wish for a goalkeeper more comfortable with the ball at his feet firstly saw Claudio Bravo and then Ederson arrive at the club in the Catalan’s first two seasons in charge.
Although criticised at first, Guardiola’s decision has been proved right as Hart struggled at Torino and West Ham, but has looked back to his best this season at Turf Moor.
“I’ve made in my career good decisions and very bad decisions,” said Guardiola on Friday. “You have to take the decision in the right moment at the right time.
“All the managers have to take decisions every five minutes. They’re important sometimes. It’s not about just the football, it’s about the professionals and the human beings. It’s not easy. But it is what it is.”
Hart’s appearance will be his first at the Etihad in 26 months, since a Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest in August 2016, and his first there as a visiting player.
Guardiola paid tribute to the goalkeeper’s professionalism in dealing with the setback of effectively being told his first-team career at the club was over.
“The relationship we had, in that short time, he was always professional. I know how tough it is for the fans, for the people, because he was an incredible ‘keeper and had incredible results here at the club. That’s why it was not easy for me to take a decision.”
And Guardiola hinted Hart could return to the club in some capacity in the future.
“It was not easy for him, but he put himself a little bit in my position and he understood perfectly. He is part of the club’s history, and you never know what is going to happen when he is going to retire.
“The doors of clubs are open for these kinds of people. So that’s why I said, privately and publicly, I wish him always the best.”