“It is not new for me. We know what he is like.” These were the words of Mauricio Pochettino after another show of heroics from Tottenham Hotspur’s goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris in yet another man of the match performance; this time against Manchester United. After two and a half seasons and over 100 appearances in a Tottenham shirt, we all know what the man is capable of. It’s not new to any of us anymore who follow Spurs and it is the consistency of Lloris’ spectacular displays that may even lead many of the Tottenham faithful to take the Frenchman for granted. It seems that in every single match, Lloris will treat the crowd to at least one example of his immense talent; with his stop of Cesar Azpilicueta’s low, curling effort the latest example against Chelsea on New Year’s Day. It truly is a privilege to witness the man at work. The sublime has come to be expected of France’s captain and it is one of the reasons why he is regarded by many as not just one of the best in England, but in the world.
It was not always as easy as Lloris makes it look now. After his deadline day signing for Spurs in August 2012, Lloris struggled to nail down a place in the team due to the form of Brad Friedel. It is an issue that Spurs fans still debate even now, with some believing that Lloris’ slow introduction into the starting line-up cost Tottenham vital points in the 2012/13 season. Pressure from outside the club fell on the then manager André Villas-Boas to play France’s number one, with Lloris’ national coach and former World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps, as well as former French national goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, chief among the critics. Despite unconfirmed reports that he was unhappy with his lack of game-time, Lloris himself kept a respectful silence throughout the fiasco and let his talents do the talking as he forced his way into Villas-Boas’ team. The tough start in N17 showed the character of Lloris to come through it and prove himself. He has always been one to overcome difficulty, as shown when he overcame knee ligament problems in 2007 whilst at Nice to help his side to their best league position in almost twenty years as well as being tied with Nancy for the best defensive record in the French first division. The mental strength of the man is unquestionable and it is this along with his extraordinary ability that has propelled him to the top of the game.
It seems now that after merely being seen as a very good ‘sweeper keeper’ by those outside of White Hart Lane, the other aspects of Lloris’ game are finally being acknowledged. As any follower of the Premier League will know, no one quite comes off his line with the confidence and success of the Frenchman, forcing even the best strikers to make rushed and often poor decisions. Lloris has come to prove the other hugely impressive aspects of his game too, with his reflexes up there with David De Gea as the best in the Premier League, executing saves that seem impossible to make with a split-second to act upon. De Gea has, recently, been getting all the plaudits in the media but it was Lloris who stole the show when the two met recently, with a fine display of his talents. Along with the quickness of his reflexes and movement off his line, Lloris has established himself as a commanding force in his penalty area. Although he often opts to punch a high ball rather than catch it, Lloris almost always puts himself in control of the situation; when he decides to come for a ball into his area there is no backing out or hesitation, he makes a decision and sticks with it. Distribution with his hands is often superb, although Lloris’ kicking is one part of his game that is disappointing, with long clearances too often ending up in the stands. It is an area of his game that evidently needs improvement and that may still come with enough time on the training pitch.
Lloris’ communication seems to have improved massively since his arrival, no doubt coming from his better grasp of the English language as well as the respect he has earned from his performances, making him into a leading figure in the dressing room. Now that Younès Kaboul is rarely getting any time on the pitch, Lloris is the man that wears the armband for Spurs. Many fans of the club saw Lloris as the logical choice for club captain in the first place, especially due to the goalkeeper’s experience as the leader of his national team, but it matters little now as he is the one consistently leading the side out of the tunnel. Along with the two centre-backs in front of him, Federico Fazio and Jan Vertonghen, Lloris seems to be the most natural leader in the dressing room, a shining example of excellence and professionalism for the young core of the Tottenham team to look up to. At set pieces, just like any good goalkeeper should do, Lloris is seen shouting and gesticulating at his teammates to get them organised how he wants and it is a regular sight to see him congratulating his peers during and after the game. At a club often criticised for lacking in leaders, Lloris stands out as the man that both the players and the fans look to for calm and assurance and as with all challenges, the Frenchman has naturally taken on being the leading figure with ease.
Despite his tough start at Tottenham, Lloris has quickly become a fan favourite, perhaps something more difficult to do when you do not play outfield. However, it’s been a very long time since White Hart Lane saw a goalkeeper quite as good as Lloris. Although he prefers to not get involved in social media, Lloris seems to have a warm relationship with the Spurs support, never forgetting to applaud the paying fans home and away and being happy to take part in the charity work of the club. There is a true belief among the Tottenham faithful that Lloris truly is one of the best in his position. Perhaps he is not as imposing as the great Manuel Neuer, but for Spurs fans there is no doubt that he challenges the German for the title of best goalkeeper in the world. This is because his talents are not new to us, as Pochettino rightly remarked. Everybody at Tottenham knows just how good the French captain is, but the likes of Neuer, De Gea and Thibaut Courtois seem to get more recognition for their ability as they perform in more successful teams. Maybe we shouldn’t complain about that though. Lloris deserves to have praise heaped upon him and to be firmly recognised as the best in the league, but perhaps the longer that it’s only Tottenham fans who “know what he is like”, the longer they have the privilege of keeping him. A privilege that all Spurs fans will wish to retain.