Hart backs 'intelligent' Balotelli
Balotelli has attracted attention for everything from unnecessary red cards to his personal war with a training bib since arriving at City and critics suggest that with near unlimited transfer funds available to him, manager Roberto Mancini took a risk by bringing the Italian youngster to Eastlands from Inter Milan.
But Hart defended his team-mate, claiming he has the goods to make the right impression on the pitch, even if the England goalkeeper conceded Balotelli was born "without everything you need" to be a professional player and still has a lot to learn.
"I have a lot of time for Mario," The Guardian quoted Hart as saying at a City fans' function. "I think people forget he is 20 years of age and has an awful lot on his plate. People appreciate that sometimes he doesn't handle situations great but he wasn't born a great public speaker or a person that acts well under pressure. He was born a great footballer and that cannot be questioned. "I don't know if people expect too much. I think he is learning all the time and I think he wants to learn. He was born a great footballer and that doesn't always come with everything you need. He is an intelligent guy; don't worry about him. He can speak English, he knows exactly what's going on. When he wants to be, he is a very good player. He is a very clever guy and he knows when he needs to do something."
Meanwhile, Hart said he would love to carve out a long-term career at Manchester City. Hart, 23, looks certain to continue his ever-present record in the Premier League this season against Liverpool on Monday night. He has made strong progress since replacing Shay Given as City's number one goalkeeper and kept 14 clean sheets in 31 top-flight games.
Hart is having the time of his life and said: "If I was given the opportunity I would not hesitate in committing myself to this club. Lots can happen in football I suppose but at this moment I am taking it season by season. I do not consider myself to be a top keeper just yet. I still have a long way to go before I could be considered in that way. You need to work hard and enjoy what you are doing. I am just mad about football. It is always on my mind. When I go home I watch football.''
While manager Roberto Mancini is delighted with Hart's progress he insists there is much more to come from the player.
Mancini said: "It was very difficult for me at the start of the season when I had to decide who to pick because we had two fantastic goalkeepers. The reason I picked Joe was I felt he could become the best goalkeeper in England - and he has. But he is young. It is only his second season in Barclays Premier League. He can improve a lot. He can be the best goalkeeper here for a long time.''
Hart is determined to emulate two of his boyhood heroes and become an idol for future generations.
"Only two stood out for me, David Seaman during his Arsenal years and Peter Schmeichel when he was over the road (at Manchester United),'' he told the club's official magazine manc. "They were top class goalkeepers and legends of the game so I watched them carefully as a kid.''
Belgian rookie Dedryck Boyata was drafted in for his first Premier League start since October in the 5-0 victory against Sunderland but Pablo Zabaleta could be preferred after returning to the club following compassionate leave.
Gareth Barry, James Milner and Edin Dzeko are all in contention for places as City aim to improve their prosepcts of a Champions League place ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on Saturday at Wembley.