An early lesson Joe Hart learned after moving to Torino was that the English soccer term “clean sheet” does not translate literally into Italian.
England’s goalkeeper caused much amusement among Torino fans when he chose the words “lenzuola pulite” (which means ‘two clean bed sheets’) to express his satisfaction at completing two games without conceding a goal in September.
Not the most auspicious start for an adventure abroad, perhaps, but fortunately for Hart, his gaffes have been mainly linguistic rather than footballing ones.
The 29-year-old England goalkeeper had been in the doldrums on the back of an error-strewn performance for his country at Euro 2016 when he was loaned to Torino in August.
The unexpected move came only days after incoming Manchester City coached Pep Guardiola signed Claudio Bravo from Barcelona.
But while Bravo has fumbled his way through his first few months in the Premier League, Hart has quietly been putting his career back on track in one of the world’s most difficult leagues.
Leaving the Premier League title contenders for a midtable Serie A outfit may have seemed like the start of a downward spiral at the time, but it is now beginning to look like an inspired springboard.
Ever-present since his arrival in Italy, Hart has played 19 league games for the Bulls, and has won widespread plaudits for his displays – not an easy feat in a notoriously unforgiving Serie A.
Hart enjoys a warm relationship with the Torino supporters and his saves were directly credited – by the unofficial club website Toro – for earning his side nine points from three draws and two wins in games they would otherwise have lost.
“He gave the team security which transformed into points,” it said.
The sentiment contrasts with some of the treatment meted out to Bravo in England.
“Bravo looks like he’s never actually played football before,” one newspaper journalist wrote of the Chilean after his error-strewn debut. Former England striker Ian Wright was more cutting. “Claudio Bravo is terrible,” he tweeted.
Bravo has been under intense scrutiny in the media in recent days after the Manchester Evening News reported he had the worst shots-on-target to saves ratio of any goalkeeper in the Premier League based on the last 22 shots he has faced.
Calls to bring Hart back to Manchester have been growing among City fans, but the goalkeeper may be forgiven for enjoying his Italian refuge while City fans rage about their patchy performances.
“The only thing on my mind is Torino because my only focus is on today,” he said in a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “I play for Torino and I think about Torino.”
After an uneasy start in a 2-1 defeat to Atalanta, Hart quickly settled in and established himself in the first team, keeping his side in the top half of the Italian table.
In all, he has kept five clean sheets and conceded 27 goals, a more than respectable record for a team that is often closer to the drop zone than European places.
Coincidentally, Bravo has also played 19 matches in the Premier League and conceded 25 goals, but his record has been for a team which had been expected to challenge for the title.
Instead of contending with the passive-aggressive Guardiola as his manager, Hart now finds himself with firebrand Torino coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
“His mentality stands out. Mihajlovic has a strong mind; win, win, win,” Hart said. “He demands a lot but we know where we stand and how far we can go.”
Hart has made it clear that his move to Torino was as much about the experience of playing in Serie A as anything else.
Despite the translation gaffe, he has shown himself to be far removed from the stereotype of the Englishman abroad who fails to learn the language and distrusts the local food.
At his official presentation, Hart read out his opening words in Italian and showed that he had already learned football basics such as mine, yours, pass, shoot, give it to me, leave it.
“I have learned to see football from a different perspective. I live well in a nice city. I play in a team with fantastic people and fantastic fans and I learn something new every day, not just in football,” he reflected.
“Being here is my life. I have learned that sometimes football can be a mad game. Now, I consider it a normal move in my career.”
Even his Italian is improving: “I understand more than I can speak,” he said. “It is enough to manage on the pitch. I promise that I don’t use Google Translate any more.”