One thing we can be sure of when England line up against Montenegro next week, the goalkeeper will be Joe Hart. There may well be a growing lobby suggesting that the Manchester City man should be dropped following his calamitous cack-hands in the Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich, a game in which his stock value fell more rapidly than Tesco’s.
There may well be a gathering force behind Fraser Forster, the Celtic keeper who, in the same week as Hart went all limp-wristed, was indomitable against a brilliant Barcelona team, making a succession of magnificent saves. Some might even feel John Ruddy, the plodding solid citizen of Norwich, is less likely than jittery Joe to make the howler than could prevent England going to Brazil.
But let's be honest, neither are going to be stepping out in whatever garish outfit England’s tailors have decided appropriate for the occasion. Put it this way, Hart's chances of playing are head and shoulders above the rest.
If Roy Hodgson is uncertain about the position and wants a clue as to what he should do about his number one, he would do well to consult the lessons of the past. On many occasions in England's less than storied story goalkeepers have been drafted in at the point of crisis and been found horribly wanting.
From Peter Bonnetti, obliged to step into Gordon Banks’s sizeable boots in the quarter final of the 1970 World Cup, to Scott Carson playing as if his gloves had been doused in Vaseline in a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia, history tells us that a critical competitive international game is no place to blood a new recruit between the sticks.
Graham Taylor this week revealed that the one thing that still surprises him about his time as England manager, and the one thing that fundamentally remains unchanged, is how nervous players were on making their debut. Seasoned professionals have long found their knees turning to jelly the moment they pull the three lions on to their chest. Taylor said that Kevin Keegan – not someone generally recognised as crippled with self-doubt – reckoned it took him ten caps before he felt remotely comfortable.
And goalkeeper is a particularly exposed position, the place where slips are made with drastic consequence. Forster and Ruddy may look unflappable in their club shirts, but England is another domain altogether. Between them, the two have a single half of friendly experience; Forster, largely in Hodgson’s squad because Ben Foster is injured, has never before been called upon before by the country of his birth. And Wembley in a World Cup qualifier with the entire nation expectant, is a somewhat more testing arena than a home game at Parkhead against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
We have long known that Hodgson's room for manoeuvre is limited. In every position bar left back, the talent pool available to him is so shallow as to be effectively dried up. A couple of injuries and he is obliged to mine a place even Harry Redknapp would be pressed to call the bare bones. He is down to the marrow.
But nowhere is his paucity of choice more stark than between the posts. Basically Hart stands alone. Here’s how bad it is: Arsenal have more options at centre forward than England have in goal. Frankly, Joe could chuck the ball in his own net against Everton on Saturday and still find himself selected next weekend.
Besides, while he may be suffering a horrible lapse in form, the truth is Hart is undoubtedly the real thing. He may not be quite as good as he thinks he is (but then only Niklas Bendtner among current Premier League players has a more robust opinion of his own abilities than Joe) but he is a goalkeeper of athleticism, strength and command. Plus, crucially, experience. Even an off-form Hart is a more plausible custodian than a Bambi-like ingénue.
Hodgson is not a gambler. He comes from the solid, plodding school of management, the one which relies on routines repeated ad nauseam on the training ground rather than sudden flights of fancy. If he is to throw in a novice, the closest he will come is to put Andros Townsend on with ten minutes of a lost cause to go. In the circumstances he is probably right to stick to the tried if not entirely trusted. As much as the romantics among us might wish it, now is no time for reckless experiment. Going down in a blaze of glory is not an option. His only choice is victory, however pragmatically it might be achieved.
Which means you can bank on Joe Hart being there in the number one jersey. And we can but hope he lives up to his manager’s vote of confidence. It would help if he stopped performing as if he were Dale Winton in a gentle cross wind.