x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hugo Lloris a restless understudy at Tottenham

Tottenham's No 2 goalkeeper has a chance to impress manager Andre Villas-Boas in the Europa League, writes Ian Hawkey.

Hugo Lloris, the France captain, was brought to Tottenham Hotspur as a long-term prospect in goal. Ian Kington / AFP
Hugo Lloris, the France captain, was brought to Tottenham Hotspur as a long-term prospect in goal. Ian Kington / AFP

Training sessions for the goalkeepers at Tottenham Hotspur apparently are conducted in an atmosphere of quiet, friendly professionalism, according to Brad Friedel, who has been in command of the No 1 jersey for all but one of Tottenham's past 50 Premier League games.

This may be just as well. If the four senior goalkeepers on the payroll started boasting about their individual achievements to one another, the bragging could last for days.

Most of the four custodians could talk about their World Cups. Friedel, 40, went to the first of his three back in 1994, and played in an Olympic Games for his native United States more than two decades ago. Had he not retired from international football in 2005, Friedel would almost certainly have added trips to both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, at the last of which were not one but two of his current colleagues, Brazil's Heurelho Gomes and France's Hugo Lloris.

And what of club football medals? The Italian Carlo Cudicini, at 39 the longest-serving Spurs gloveman, can boast two Premier League titles, with Chelsea, and of having been part of the AC Milan squad that won the 1994 Champions League. Gomes won several Dutch league titles with PSV Eindhoven.

In short, there is such a catalogue of experience among the keepers at Tottenham that Lloris, the current captain of France, should hardly have been surprised when, on arriving at Spurs, for a €10m (Dh47.7m) fee from Lyon in late August, he encountered a bottleneck in the queue for the first XI jersey.

Lloris, who will start in the Europa League tomorrow night against Maribor, has played only one league match so far under Andres Villas-Boas, and his rivalry with the evergreen Friedel has made big news either side of the English channel.

The French can barely understand how the hero of so many internationals – Lloris is only 25 but, having started as the youngest ever goalkeeper for Les Bleus, he has 42 caps – can rank only as understudy for his club.

In England, the theory persists that Villas-Boas was not the main motivator for the Lloris transfer. Indeed, Tottenham's interest in him goes back to 2008, four years before the current manager joined.

What that means is that Spurs' headhunters know in depth about the man they have assigned to succeed Friedel, even if they misjudged how sharp Friedel would remain into the fifth decade of his life.

They will be well acquainted with Lloris's unusual background for a professional footballer. He is the son of relative economic privilege, his father an investment banker, his late mother a lawyer.

He grew up on the Cote d'Azur, near to the monied Principality of Monaco, where Luc Lloris, the banker, had a base.

Young Lloris would be a gifted student in school as well on the sports field.

He combined an apprenticeship in the junior ranks at the Ligue 1 club Nice with impressive academic certificates, especially in science.

Some of his early coaches found his development as a footballer had been slightly compromised by his commitment to continuing his education, but that his determination and athleticism would soon compensate once he made up his mind that he would pursue a career as a professional sportsman.

For a time, the question was: in which sport?

Lloris had been a talented tennis player in his teens, and he has a lightness on his feet around the penalty box and a balance that would be assets on court.

He is tall and slender, exceptionally quick in his reactions and movements on his line and, necessarily for a modern keeper, looks confident with the ball at his feet, particularly his left foot.

In English football, his wiry frame will certainly be tested by more robust and more frequent shoulder charges when challenging for high balls than he has been accustomed to in Ligue 1, but it was precisely a fresh set of demands that he says he had sought in moving to Tottenham.

"I wanted the new experience in a different culture," he told L'Equipe, shortly before the French sports newspaper congratulated him on a fine performance for the national side as they held the world champions Spain to a 1-1 draw in Madrid last week.

Off the field, Lloris has a reputation of being private, even taciturn. His father once identified one of his most important qualities as the "ability to compartmentalise his life, between football, his family, and his other interests".

France turned to him as captain when they sought maturity and stability after the mutinous disasters of the last World Cup. Spurs turned to him for long-term future security at the base of an adventurous, attacking team. Lloris feels impatient that the long-term future should begin now.


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