Hugo Lloris has heard the nuptial call of the English press. “Do you have two minutes?” asked one of the reporters. The France the goalkeeper and the captain didn’t have two seconds. “Oh, do you want to talk to me now?” he replied, without hesitation, barely slowing the pace on his way out of the stadium.
It was last Saturday night, France just beat England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and we did not immediately see what was eating Lloris. Turns out he was fuming after an article in one of the English newspapers that suggested he might be France’s weakest link.
The article relied on data from a goalkeeper-specific analytics firm, which said he had compared unfavorably to England’s Jordan Pickford this season, and he’s had a tremendous reception in France – frankly out of proportion.
The way it was presented to Lloris before the game was that the English media in general had denied it and, yes, it will sting – especially as he has been a Premier League mainstay for Tottenham since September 2012. .
The episode highlighted two things. Firstly, the feeling that Lloris is underestimated in England. What he does well is taken for granted – most obviously, the sensational reflex saves – while the occasional mistake is skipped all over the place. There has long been frustration at Spurs over why Lloris is never included in the squads of the season.
Second, there is a fundamental truth. Competitive fires are raging within Lloris and that’s one of the reasons why he stands on the edge of history. He led France to World Cup glory in 2018. If he were to do the same in Sunday’s final against Argentina, he would become the first player to lead two winning teams in the competition. Stoke the fires and prepare to be burned.
Lloris – 36 on Boxing Day – is not the stereotypical goalkeeper, or even the stereotypical footballer, and that may fuel the treatment he receives.
He comes from a wealthy family – his father a banker, his mother a lawyer – and his first love was not football but tennis. He was an extremely promising junior player and when he turned 10 he had to make a choice. He went to football because he wanted to be part of a team.
You won’t see Lloris bashing his opponents, engaging in bullshit like, say, Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. He is not a mad sniper between the sticks. On the contrary, he is calm and serious, sometimes gloomy; a deep thinker who doesn’t live too long in the moment, doesn’t stick it out.
In February 2019, he was asked to reflect on what it was like to captain a World Cup winning team, to follow in the footsteps of legends such as Bobby Moore and Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Diego Maradona. “I don’t want to say that I forgot the world Cup but, to me, that is a thing of the past,” he replied, which was far from the expected answer. Or maybe it shouldn’t have been. As everyone agreed, it was “so Hugo”, the ultimate distillation of him.
Spurs players who welcomed Lloris in 2012 after his £11million move from Lyon remember his soul-searching, which was never going to play well when he had to sing his initiation song.
Lloris joined at the same time as Mousa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey, and the former got down to his song well. Then Dempsey, AKA the Deuce, stood up to perform a rap in which he ran through the entire team, rhyming on each one of them. At the end, they were up; applaud, shout. Follow that, Hugo. He whispered a fairly flat version of The Marseillaise. There were a lot of eyes on the laces.
Lloris has experienced exponential growth in insurance as a leader. In the summer of that year, Didier Deschamps was appointed France coach and he kept Lloris as captain. Previous manager Laurent Blanc initially gave Lloris the armband for the Friendly victory against England at Wembley in November 2010 and he would make it a regular thing just under 12 months later.
As the young captain of a young France team, Lloris was able to work his way into the role and it was a similar situation at Spurs after Mauricio Pochettino took over in the summer of 2014. Pochettino officially gave him given the club captaincy at the start of the 2015-16 season and, again, it was not an established dressing room he was asked to guide.
Lloris’ career has been shaped, in part, by the strength of his relationships with Deschamps and Pochettino, the ingrained levels of mutual trust. Lloris is the most capped player in France with 144; an incredible 119 of them as captain.
Pochettino was blown away when Lloris loaned him his replica World Cup trophy. For months Pochettino had it on top of his office cupboard; it was the first thing visitors saw when entering.
But Lloris did it because he appreciated the support Pochettino gave him after his conviction for drunk driving in September 2018; an isolated but shocking lack of judgement, the most trying point of Lloris’ career. Pochettino refused to consider stripping him of the Spurs captaincy.
Lloris has never let France down, with the feeling he has kept his best for critical tournament moments – wins over Germany in the Euro 2016 semi-finals and Uruguay and Belgium in the quarter and semi-finals of the last World Cup. Cup. He conceded a goal gently against Croatia in the final but, fortunately for him, France led 4-1.
At this World Cup, Lloris has been solid behind a new look and changed backs often, spreading confidence, ready to speak out when needed. He made vital saves against England, then against Morocco in the semi-finals. There are good reasons for it to be celebrated in France.
Lloris can still come across as a reluctant hero, a little more withdrawn than he should be. When he lifted the World Cup in 2018, he was partially obscured in photographs of Olivier Giroud and a few other players, who stood before him.
He would be commented on at Spurs. Not that Lloris cared. For him, it’s just the next game, to prove himself. This leads to the immortality of football.