The Premier League’s premier sweeper keeper will be patrolling his box like a caged animal at Villa Park and, very often, outside it as well when high-flying Tottenham come to Birmingham to take on a dangerous if inconsistent Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.
It is no coincidence, either, that Hugo Lloris has become the arch exponent of the goalkeeper who plays like an extra defender, a role all keepers have to do occasionally if reluctantly but, in the case of the French national captain, with relish and encouraged by manager Andre Villas-Boas.
‘I am the chief of the box,’ Loris explained as he prepared for a likely onslaught from Villa’s top striker Christian Benteke. ‘It’s my area. I try to be active and control my box. With Spurs it is not just the box I control. It is just outside too.
‘That is the philosophy of this club, too play high. I have no problem with it. I like to go forward. Yes, it can be a little risky sometimes, and may I can lose two or three games in a season by playing so high myself, but it also really helps the defence and stops attackers early.’
It helps having the raw pace that Lloris possesses, shown best when he beat Theo Walcott in a chase to the ball at the Emirates last month, but a lesser known fact about the French national captain is that he began life as a striker, and his number one hero is not a goalkeeper, but Eric Cantona.
‘Cantona was the first player I admired because I was a striker who also liked being a goalkeeper when I started playing football at seven. It meant I was a Manchester United fan and I even had a scarf because my mother brought one back with her from a trip to England.
‘It was because of this that I then grew to like Peter Schmeichel. I admired his presence and his personality. Then I followed other goalkeepers like Fabien Barthez, Iker Casillas, Oliver Kahn, Gianluigi Buffon – all strong characters who dominated their box.’
They were known to shout and scream at their defenders and yet as Lloris speaks his words are softly-delivered. ‘This is me of the pitch. On the pitch I am a different personality. I know they say in England that all goalkeepers are mad. They say the same in France, too.
‘I wanted to be a striker at first and played up front until I went to Nice academy at ten years old. That’s when I became a goalie full-time. I was also a big tennis fan and a decent player. That was my first sport. My hero was Pete Sampras and I used to go every year to the tournament in Monte Carlo, but then football took over.’
Lloris can ill afford any mistakes today after Spurs lost 3-0 at home to West Ham a fortnight ago, one of the more stand out results in a season that has already produced so many upsets.
Since then he and most of his teammates have had to dwell on the setback whilst on international duty but Lloris knows what needs to be done if Spurs, who started the weekend in 6th place but just three points behind the leaders, intend to maintain what has been an otherwise excellent start.
‘West Ham proved once again that in the Premier League if you are not at 100 per cent, if not fully focussed and not playing at your best, then you can lose to any other team.
‘For most of the season we have played with speed, with lots of short passes and lots of chances created but against West Ham we were slow, didn’t create much and played poorly. In other leagues you can get away with this because there is a gap between the top and the bottom, but not in England.
‘That’s why playing Villa will be very difficult. They are very dangerous, as they have already proved this season, and we need to be at our best. When you think about how many new players have come to the club from so many different countries they have adapted very well and quickly to a new country, environment, culture, philosophy, language and teammates. That’s why the West Ham defeat is so difficult to accept.’
In Brad Guzan Villa also sport one of the form keepers in the Premier League but this is no surprise to Lloris.
‘This league is full of world-class keepers who prove it week after week after week. We have some good ones in France, too, but there is not so much depth. In England it is more physical and intense as a keeper but it makes you better.’
It does not make you a sweeper, though. That is all down to Lloris’s first love, and the high risk philosophy of a maverick manager.
**** Lloris was interviewed before the match against Aston Villa