Football has changed an awful lot since the arrival of the Premier League.
In 1992, the sport welcomed premier rights deals and premier TV packages which in turn led to premier salaries, premier hair styles and premier egos.
In a very short space of time, the UK’s love of football had been harnessed to power a big business.
Many have forgiven the ugliness wealth has handed the beautiful game – disloyalty, extortionate tickets, agents, Carlos Tevez – because the quality of English top flight football has never been better.
However, while the arrival of big salaries and foreign players added goals and drama, it is still important to be reminded of football’s simple roots every now and then.
And few players encapsulate the purity of just playing football like Manchester City’s goalkeeper Joe Hart.
While millions watched his heroic saves against Dortmund on Wednesday, millions more tweeted about them. From every gender, nationality and supporter – an overwhelming amount of love flew around the Twittersphere for a player in the least glamorous position of them all, between the sticks. Yes, the tweets soon became boring but the mass outcry was something to cherish.
Instead of pre-match handshakes capturing the attention, here we were transfixed by a man who just knew how to capture the ball.
Our ‘common’ hero
Joe Hart puts the common back into the Premier League. Place the prawn sandwiches back in the cooler and leave the Lamborghini on the drive, because Hart strips football back to its basics. As we watch his animalistic determination and single mindedness, we unite as football fans. We simply like to see a player doing a good job for his team.
It is not the sort of quality represented by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Mario Balotelli with all that huffing and puffing and posturing and smirking. Instead it is about a man between the sticks who cares more about stopping the ball than anything else in the world.
After City’s defeat to Real Madrid two weeks ago in the European Champions League, Hart was so distraught about conceding two late goals he could barely speak. Those who watch him week in, week out yelling at his defensive line will have no doubt as to how much he cares. It is there for us all to see.
Does the huge salary matter to Joe Hart? Maybe not as much as we think. What about the celebrity? Likely to be more a hindrance than a help. Because there is something about Hart that makes you think he doesn’t just want to be a great goalkeeper for City and England but the greatest player of all time.
For Man City and their fans there must be few things better than knowing that behind Tevez and Balotelli stands Hart. While training to keep balls out of the net, it is likely he also works hard to keep egos on the ground.
But Hart is far more important to football than he is to his club.
He has the looks (yes, they matter), talent, demeanour, ambition and intellect to remind us that in between the obscene salaries and glamorous lifestyles are guys who just love playing football.
Hart is also doing a fantastic job aspiring young goalkeepers, proving you don’t need to score goals or capture the headlines with controversy to be a star.
With a crucial role still to play for England and two handy poles to keep his ego in check, one hopes the money-driven Premier League will take heart from this modest and professional goalkeeper.
Because if it does, we know football will be in safe hands.