Any City fan trying to put together a list of the highest points of Mark Hughes' time at the club would do very well to not include the £6m signing of Shay Given from Newcastle. The move has so far proved a resounding success, and coming up to a year since he joined both declaring it as such, and in stating that he's one of the better goalkeepers we've had in modern times, maybe full stop, would be met by unanimous agreement.
As ecstatic as we are to have the very best 'keeper in the land there was a certain amount of disappointment that in bringing in an established number one we were having to curtail the promising career of another, at the club at least, every silver lining, etc. Joe Hart had begun to emerge as the finest young English goalie around, but with Shay about he was always going to play second fiddle.
For all that Joe Hart was and is a shot-stopper of undoubted quality, there were chinks to his game, albeit ones that could be ironed out with experience. He always had that hint of the Grobelaar's about him, occasionally gifting opponents chances, even goals, through an overconfidence bordering on cockiness. I also never really fancied him in one-on-one situations like i do with Shay.
The decision to let Joe move to a rival Premier League club on loan was one that we had to take with a heavy heart. With the World Cup this summer it was only fair to allow the lad to play regularly somewhere, and given those stakes, and the stage of his top-flight career, it could only have been to another Premier League club, and one of only a few who could guarantee him to be first choice.
Initially, he didn't impress. His first few games for the St Andrews club generally involved him looking wobbly, and if my memory serves me right he made serious errors against United, Burnley, Spurs and others. Since then, however, and no-one's holding a bedding-in period against anyone, Birmingham have gone on to prove one of the tightest defences in the division, and in recent weeks Joe's really excelled.
They deserve real credit for what they've achieved over the first half of the season. We've been in the position of being recently promoted, and we know that the first year back in the top flight is solely about survival. To be well ahead of the point-per-game average so far is a great achievement, and manager Alex McLeish's canny buys, namely Joe on loan, but also Championship defenders Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, are worthy of extra praise.
It just goes to show what good work on the training ground can do, and the irony of two of the meanest defences in the country including players deemed not good enough to play week in, week out here, surely hasn't been lost on anyone, not least when we've spent over £65m on their replacements to at best mixed results.
On current form Joe stands a realistic chance of a seat on the plane to South Africa this summer, and good on him. In my opinion he's a better option than Ben Foster, or a half-fit David James. The position is obviously a problem for England in one sense, that they don't have an established first choice, but i don't think we've a shortage of good 'keepers, far from it. Hart, Rob Green and Chris Kirkland would be my three, personally.
I can honestly imagine Shay Given being around for at least two or three seasons after this one, and i'm absolutely thrilled at the prospect of that, but it will almost certainly mean we have to move Joe on permanently, which does disappoint me. Though he is contracted to the club until the summer of 2013 i'm not sure we can realistically expect him to wait around for his chance, or repeatedly loan him out.
As a fan of the club i'd much rather we had someone of his quality as backup, but he'll need some certainty over his future and if he expresses a desire to leave the club permanently i think we have to give him his chance, providing nothing unforeseen happens beforehand. The money must be right, of course, and it'll be a sad day seeing him go, but until it comes, the current agreement seems to be benefiting all - the player, his new club, England, and us.