Hugo Lloris seems uncomfortable in the spotlight despite his captaincy duties with club and country. But do not confuse discretion with weakness. Lloris exerts a strong influence beyond his spectacular saves.
Frederic Antonetti, the former Nice manager who introduced Lloris to the French top-flight over a decade ago, put it well when, long before a season in which the goalkeeper is attempting to regain the English crown for Tottenham Hotspur before lifting the European title for France, he said Lloris would become a splendid captain because "a good leader is not the person who talks the most, it is the person who talks the most sense".
Lloris talks sense and team-mates listen. In his debut season at Lyon following his multimillion transfer from Nice, when commentators in France were first starting to talk about the then 23-year-old emerging as the best goalkeeper in the world, the popular weekly show Telefoot asked Lyon for permission to use footage from the club's channel of the goalkeeper doing one of the famously intense training sessions with the club's goalkeeping coach, the former France number one Joel Bats. Lloris vetoed it.
He eventually relented months later but imposed two conditions: the feature could not run for more than two minutes and must contain “no sensationalism about being the best goalkeeper in the world”.
Lloris’ performances, however, hardly helped subdue hype and since his move to London in 2012 it is certainly no exaggeration to class him among the best goalkeepers in the world, a status that savvy observers always sensed he would reach.
“I first saw him when he was about 12 years old and he came to Nice for a trial,” says the former France goalkeeper and Nice coach Dominique Baratelli. “Straight away we coaches turned to each other and said: ‘Don’t waste time, sign him up now,’” says Baratelli. “He had something that most kids just don’t have. What struck me most strongly were his anticipation and his reading of the game. He made extraordinary saves, but most of all he took intelligent initiatives. He had an innate understanding of when to come off his line and even sometimes out of his box to join in play. Fabien Barthez was the first well-known French ’keeper to be so assertive, but I’ve never seen a 12-year-old do it as well as Hugo. Even then, he was directing teams from the back.”
He is still doing it now. Lloris has an undemonstrative drive similar to that of Pete Sampras, the American tennis champion who, along with Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel, was the sportsman that Lloris says he most admired when growing up. He radiates calm authority and brings order through his timely instructions.
Spurs would not have the best defensive record in the league if Lloris were not such a vigilant organiser and so effective as a sweeper, regularly dashing off his line with the speed of a top tennis player sprinting from the baseline to the net. Even still, Lloris is often called upon to make improbable saves. His stop from a close-range shot by Jonas Olsson against West Bromwich Albion in December was, according to the opposition goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, “the best save I’ve ever seen in real life”. Spurs fans have grown accustomed to seeing such saves.
Lloris has admitted that there was a point a couple of season ago when he started to doubt that he could win anything with Tottenham, saying that the sudden switch of manager from Andre Villas-Boas to Tim Sherwood did not reflect a club in control of its destiny. It was “just the opposite of what I like to see in football,” he said last year before explaining that Mauricio Pochettino’s rigour and vision gave the club “new benchmarks” and helped convince him to sign a new five-year contract in the summer of 2014.
Powers of negotiation
The fact that the respect between player and manager went both ways was then proven by the Argentinian’s appointment of Lloris as captain. Even still, if Real Madrid had succeeded in prising David de Gea from Manchester United earlier this season, then the Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy may have had to draw on all of his reputed powers of negotiation to stop Lloris from heading to Old Trafford.
As it turns out, by staying still Lloris and Tottenham have moved themselves closer to winning the trophy for which they yearn. Guardian Service