Hugo Lloris grows into sweeping success for Spurs after biding time
Forward-thinking keeper has played a big part in Tottenham's recent rise
Sunday 20 October 2013
Hugo Lloris readily admits it. He's never exactly been backwards about coming forward.
"Since my professional debut I've always had a risky game. I try to control my box. I always think the goalkeeper has to be the chief of the box. It's his area and he has to defend it."
With such an assured mission statement, it is remarkable to think Lloris's position was the root of so much uncertainty at Tottenham just over a year ago. A £12.3m signing from Lyon, the France captain could not initially dislodge Brad Friedel. It was the first controversy of Andre Villas-Boas's tenure.
Since then, Lloris has more than taken command of the role, and he's done so by completely taking command of his area. The 26-year-old's willingness to come off his line to sweep is one of the most distinctive parts of his game.
A thoroughly modern goalkeeper, his play illustrates the evolution of the modern Tottenham. The team play a higher line than last season's counter-attacking side, and a higher line than even Lloris has experienced before. His forward-thinking fits perfectly.
"We have a philosophy which helps us to control the game. We want to have possession of the ball and for that we try to play very high and to keep the ball on the opponents' side. Sometimes you need to take some risks and in the course of a season maybe you can lose one, two or three games because of counter-attacks but it's a good way for us to play because we have the players to play that system.
"The manager has this philosophy and Tottenham has for a long time had the philosophy of trying to play well so all the fans are happy with it."
That's not to say the fans haven't endured some tension, particularly in the seventh minute of the 1-0 win over Cardiff City when Lloris seemed fortunate not to be sent off for a handball outside the box. Controversies like that come with the territory.
Yet, for a goalkeeper so willing to play right on the line, Lloris seems quite reserved as he sits at Tottenham's training complex. Quietly spoken, he works hard to find an errant word in English, rather than more easily resort to French. It is hard to square that politeness with the abrasive goalkeeper. "We have different personalities on and off the pitch. I'm very relaxed."
Lloris insists he was always relaxed about his initial wait to play behind Friedel. "Honestly, I never had doubts," he said. "I think the manager has his idea last season and he has another today. Football is always changing and improving. The good thing is that contact with Brad has been good since the beginning."
Some at Spurs maintain the only reason Lloris was first kept in reserve was because Villas-Boas wanted him to adjust to the physicality of the English game in training, the bodies crashing into him at crosses. The goalkeeper admits there is "more contact".
"In France and Europe the goalkeeper is more protected by referees... there is still a difference between the feeling in Europe and in the Premier League."
At the same time, it was Lloris's early familiarity with English football – and fascination with one club – that both prepared him for the ball-playing aspect of his game and set him on his career path.
"I started to discover the goalkeeper position with Peter Schmeichel because I was a fan of Eric Cantona and therefore [Manchester] United. Schmeichel was unbelievable. He had a big presence in the box. After that, there was Fabian Barthez, Iker Casillas, [Gigi] Buffon. It's important to have personality and be respected in your box and in your life."
Early in his life at Nice, Lloris tried to be like Cantona. "I was a striker and goalkeeper. When you are young, you are fascinated only by defending goals or scoring goals.
"The coach saw straight away I was ready to be a goalkeeper because I was ready to catch balls. I started at seven. I was playing outfield when I was nine or 10, I went to the Nice academy when I was 11 [as a goalkeeper]."
Lloris admits his mother once brought him home a Manchester United scarf and jokes that a mischievous story might be made out of that in the English press, but he has now come to love the competitiveness of the English game.
"When you play a European game, sometimes you can say 'today we'll just control the game and win' because there are big gaps between teams, but that is impossible in the Premier League because here every team can beat the other team."
Tottenham certainly experienced that in their last game, with the 3-0 home defeat to West Ham United that so checked their fine start. Lloris insists the team have learned a lesson ahead of today's awkward trip to Aston Villa.
"Since the beginning of the season we have played a good game, with a lot of short passes and offensive football," he said. "We've created a lot of scoring opportunities but against West Ham we showed the opposite face. We didn't create a lot, we played very slowly. "West Ham put us in trouble, they played a good game. We didn't play in that game and we don't want to live that again. We want to win every game and not have regrets." Lloris, as he has proved, is certainly someone who looks forward.
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