Hugo Lloris: More than just the best goalkeeper at Tottenham
Gareth Bale’s annus mirabilis overshadowed almost everything at White Hart Lane last season. Not least that in any other year, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris would have been a front-runner for Spurs’ player of the season. The French international didn’t have the easiest of starts after his transfer from Lyon. Andre Villas-Boas had publicly said he considered Brad Friedel to be the club’s first-choice keeper, and the American extended his uninterrupted run of Premier League appearances to 310 before he was left on the bench for the home game against Aston Villa two months into the season.
The French media were rather more vocal about this perceived snub to their international keeper than Lloris was himself. He merely put in a lot of hard work on the training ground and showed what he could do in the League Cup games he was given. By the beginning of November he had taken over from Friedel as the regular first-team keeper. The thing about Lloris was that he didn’t look much to start with. He was slightly built and at just 1.88 meters tall had none of the physical presence of most other keepers in the Premier League. Nor was he particularly flashy. He just went about his job with the minimum amount of fuss.
It was only when you watched him closely that you realised just how good he was. The reason he didn’t make as many eye-catching saves as some keepers was that he didn’t need to. His reactions and positioning were so good he could make life easy for himself and his team. But it was his command of the penalty area that made you realise just what a special player he was. He made every inch of it his own, coming out to cut out high crosses and closing down the opposition’s breaks. His only weakness was his distribution, but under the circumstances you could forgive him that. Most of all, though, he brought a new found confidence to the Spurs’ defence.
For several seasons previously when Heurelho Gomes and Friedel had been the first-choice keepers, there was often a sense of panic when a high ball went into the area from a corner or free kick because nobody knew quite whose job it was to clear it. Should they leave the ball for the keeper or take a chance and boot it clear?
The same thing applied when the opposition forwards were pressing forward. Should the defenders back off, risk an early tackle or what? It was never an easy decision because the keeper was nowhere in sight to help out. Lloris was, though. He was prepared to come out to the edge of the area, at times acting more like an extra outfield player in the back four than a traditional keeper.
It was when Lloris wasn’t playing — Friedel was given the cup games — that it was easiest to see just how valuable the Frenchman had become. It became clear that one of the main reasons everyone at White Hart Lane had grown to love Friedel so much the previous season before Lloris’s arrival was that he wasn’t Gomes, a keeper who could make the difficult look easy and the easy look impossible.
Friedel brought more solidity to the team. He was never going to make a howler but was still a brilliant shot stopper. What he wasn’t, though, was mobile. Whether this was just a matter of age — in 2011-12 he became the oldest Premier League footballer ever at 41 — or style was a matter for debate. But Friedel very rarely left his 6-yard box and, as a result, Spurs leaked goals when he played — primarily because his positional uncertainty spread panic and confusion through the rest of the defence.
Curiously, though, Lloris making himself the clear first-choice goalkeeper does give Spurs a small headache because the club are only ever a bad collision away from trouble. What happens if he were to pick up a long-term injury that sidelined him for several months? Friedel is a more than useful No. 2 for the occasional team rotation and cup run — not least because he’s a great team player who isn’t prone to having public strops at being left out — but all the warning signs are there that he is no longer the right man to replace Lloris for an extended period of time.
To put it bluntly, Friedel is now at an age, 42, when he can only get worse. No matter how hard he trains, his reactions and mobility can’t help but fall off. And in the Premier League even a 1 or 2 percent decline in performance can be crucial. It may seem ruthless, but while chairman Daniel Levy maintains his pursuit of a top striker, he might be well advised to keep his eyes open for backup at the other end of the pitch.
*** And this is what I have been trying to tell people about my favorite goalie. He is special. This is the best article I’ve read about him thus far.