Charles Richards takes a look at our captain and discusses what the future holds for him.
What next for Hugo?
The first Spurs keeper I can really remember seeing in action was Ian Walker. It is perhaps a bit unkind, for a player who played 260 games for Spurs, but the first thing that I think about with Walker is the centre-parted, greased-back long hair, a combo straight out of This Is England ‘90. Next, I think about his goalkeeping. From what I remember as a kid, it was distinctly shaky at times.
Since Walker, Spurs first-choice keepers have been Neil Sullivan, Kasey Keller, Paul Robinson, Heurelho Gomes, Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris. There are some fine Premier League keepers on that list, especially Friedel and Robinson. But there is only one keeper who is world class, and that is Lloris.
Lloris combines extraordinary reflexes and speed, with top positioning and bravery. His technique allows him invariably to ensure his blocks bounce away from danger. Despite not being tall, Lloris dominates the box on crosses like almost no other keeper. He punches often — this isn’t just due to his limited size, but is also a proactive attempt at intercepting balls into the box rather than just hoping his defenders deal with them (also known as “Kaboul Syndrome”). His punches unfailing get the ball a long way clear. His game intelligence and quickness allows him to be a “sweeper keeper” par excellence, but he is a smart enough individual to change his game completely like he did last season when he rarely came off his line.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a definitive ranking of world keepers — but by any measure Lloris is up there. Keepers at more successful teams get more credit, keepers at worse clubs make more saves. Put it this way, stick Thibaut Courtois or David De Gea in net for Spurs in the past two seasons and I don’t think they’d be quite so far ahead of Lloris in the pundits’ pecking order. I’d say his only weakness is his kicking, which can be average as was shown in the victory against Sunderland.
Lloris combines extraordinary reflexes and speed, with top positioning and bravery. His technique allows him invariably to ensure his blocks bounce away from danger
His highlight reel is impressive, and all Spurs fans will have their favourite Hugo moments. His impossible save at The Emirates last season, where he dived downwards and backwards like Keanu Reeves dodging a bullet in The Matrix, required goal line technology just to show how incredible it was. The way Hugo charged off his line in the opener last season at Upton Park and blocked a Stewart Downing goal after West Ham carved open the Spurs defence changed the tone of the game, and culminated in Eric Dier’s unlikely winner.
My personal favourite was in the 2-1 home win against Sunderland last season. After an unconvincing performance, Spurs were ahead with minutes to play and should have had no problems seeing it out against a mediocre Sunderland team. But, once again, the defence was sliced open and the ball fell to Danny Graham, unmarked, inside the box. He hit it first time, hard and low, and expected the net to bulge. But Hugo reacted faster than you would think is humanly possible, and managed to get low and parry the ball to safety. Afterwards, you could see Graham mouth the words “How did he save that?”.
In many ways it summed up Hugo’s time at Spurs — he saved the team two points, but was sorely exposed by his defence. It wasn’t that Spurs conceded a late shot in a tight game, that happens to every team. It was the fact that, 2-1 up with minutes to play, the two centre backs were taken out of the game with one poked pass, Danny Rose wasn’t back to cover in time, and the midfield weren’t tracking. It was pathetic defending, and it must drive Hugo mad.
Lloris is 28, and is entering his absolute prime as a goalkeeper. He is a world-class player and the captain of the French national team. If ever there was a time he wanted to be playing Champions League football, this is it. If there is one player at the club who doesn’t fit the timeframe for what is being built at Spurs, namely developing a young and exciting team over the next three seasons in readiness to compete in a shiny new stadium, it is Lloris.
One can only wonder what his future holds.
Like most Spurs fans, I don’t believe Spurs will qualify for the Champions League next season, or the one after. Daniel Levy’s unusual public statement after the transfer window hinted strongly that Champions League was unlikely until the stadium is built.
The transfer window was proof that the focus is now on the future, even if that is at the expense of the present. While Spurs invested in new defenders, the experienced midfielder the squad was seemingly crying out for never arrived. Maybe Dier will be the answer, but we’ll have gotten lucky if he is. Likewise, it was deemed better in the long-term to wait on purchasing a second-out-and-out striker in the belief that better players at better prices will be available in future windows.
As a fan, I don’t mind that we’re not going to make the Top Four for a while — it’s hard to miss what you don’t have. Thursday nights in the Europa, for better or worse, have become part of my routine as a Spurs fan.
If there is one player at the club who doesn’t fit the timeframe for what is being built at Spurs, namely developing a young and exciting team over the next three seasons in readiness to compete in a shiny new stadium, it is Lloris
But Lloris doesn’t have the same luxury of time. He’s been at Spurs three seasons and is yet to play Champions League football. He can’t go another three, can he? It’s one thing not making the Champions League, it’s another not to even really try.
I remember pinching myself on deadline day three years ago when the Lloris deal was done and Hugo rocked up at Spurs Lodge in a people carrier. Above all, I couldn’t believe the France No. 1 was coming to us, and not Woolwich — surely we were just moments from being shafted for a cab fare, a la Emmanuel Petit. Arsene Wenger has gotten an awful lot right over at The Emirates — it is OK to admit this as a Spurs fan, your therapist says it is good for you — but failing to buy Lloris on the cheap was a huge error, especially in light of the Wojciech Szczesny experiment failing so hilariously.
The French media and the national team coach, Didier Deschamps, have never managed to forgive Spurs for our audacity in pinching Hugo. L’Equipe, in particular, repeatedly stirs up transfer rumours about Lloris, while Deschamps isn’t shy in hinting that he’d rather Lloris moved on.
This wasn’t helped by Andre Villas-Boas’ decision to bench Lloris initially out of respect to Brad Friedel. The French press didn’t know what a big figure Brad Friedel was in the English game and at the club. You can understand why the demand Lloris somehow prove himself while simultaneously being benched was greeted with a shrug of Gallic derision of the type normally reserved for 5th arrondissement cafes when someone makes an inerudite observation about Friedrich Nietzsche.
This summer, Hugo’s camp revealed to The Guardian’s David Hytner that if a Champions League club came in for him, he wanted to leave. When he was asked about his status at Spurs while on international duty, he dealt with the question expertly — reiterating his stance that he wants to be playing Champions League football, but is perfectly happy at Spurs until the opportunity arises.
Hugo is a rare beast in modern football as he doesn’t have a social media profile, and seemingly has no interest in the limelight. There will be no Saido Berahino-style tweets — he is too smart for that and knows there is nothing that can be done until January at least, but more likely the summer.
But in truth, even if he had thrown his toys out of the pram like some players this summer, it’s unclear whether a move would have materialized. I don’t buy the ITK tattle that Lloris has agreed to give Levy “one more year” — I’m not sure the market quite came right for him.
The goalkeeping market is a funny one — it is much more static than other positions. Once big teams have a first-choice keeper, they stay for a long time. Clubs don’t speculate with potential upgrades — if they have a slot, they fill it. If you are a keeper like Lloris, when the moment comes you have to take it, no matter how messy it is.
It must have been frustrating for Hugo watching Real Madrid and Manchester United serve up such high farce on Spanish deadline day, leaving David de Gea stuck in Manchester. A move to Manchester United seemed so obvious, but that appears to be off the table with De Gea signing a new contract. I’m sure his agents will monitor the goalkeeping situations at Real, PSG and perhaps someone like Juventus as the Buffon era draws to a close. But his avenues to regular Champions League football seem narrower now and won’t be in England.
I don’t feel sorry for Hugo and I want him to stay. He is paid extremely well, chose to join Spurs three years ago, and willingly signed a new contract last summer. He is captain of one of the most storied clubs in English football. His stance that he is happy to stay until the prospect of Champions League football materializes is logical and reasonable, and shouldn’t be taken as an insult. If you want world class players in your squad, you have to give them access to the Champions League, the truly world-class stage of world football.
But we should be realistic.Tottenham are committing to a long-term approach built on developing young players. The cost of this is short-term success and reduced chances of qualifying for the Champions League. The chance of Hugo playing Champions League for Spurs at White Hart Lane looks remoter than ever, and he must know this.
He is captain of one of the most storied clubs in English football. His stance that he is happy to stay until the prospect of Champions League football materializes is logical and reasonable
It feels like Hugo is at crossroads. Should he stick it out for another three years, in the hope that the stadium is built on time and on budget, the young players he leads blossoms into top-class players, and Spurs find a way to muscle into the Top 4 on a regular basis?
That is a hell of a gamble, because none of it is guaranteed. But at the same time, Hugo appears to be a man of integrity, who values his word and his reputation as a leader and good character. An ugly transfer stand-off can permanently damage that. And there is no guarantee that there is even a market for his services at a price Spurs would consider while the trauma of misspending the Gareth Bale money still lingers.
As I said I don’t feel sorry for Hugo and I don’t have sympathy if he decides he wants to leave so soon after signing a new deal. But I think we can all understand the feeling of what it is like in life and work when we are faced with tough choices, the feeling we aren’t quite where we should be, the feeling that the clock is ticking. If there comes a moment when he spills his frustration, I think most Spurs can understand why.
But whatever happens, right now we are seeing the finest Spurs goalkeeper of the Premier League era, or maybe any era, playing at his absolute peak. That is something to truly savour, especially those of us whose formative Spurs keeper memories revolve around Ian Walker and his awful barnet.
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