Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Hugo Lloris: ‘Tottenham didn’t have the same energy as before – Ange had a positive impact’

Hugo Lloris is energized by something new.

After 12 years at Tottenham Hotspur, most as captain, Lloris has agreed a one-year contract with LAFC worth $350,000 (£277k), months after rejecting big money deals from Saudi Arabia and Europe. Under these terms, he will earn less money than 23 MLS goalkeepers were paid last season. 

At Tottenham, he earned his now yearly salary in MLS in under three weeks, yet the change of scenery and opportunity for a fresh challenge made it a straightforward decision. 

“I have now arrived at a point in my career where I feel free to decide my next project and destination and I liked everything about MLS,” the 37-year-old tells The Athletic. “They have a budget for the goalkeeper spot that they couldn’t go over because the rules are different, so there was not even a question about salary. It shows how much I wanted to come!

“I don’t have the national team anymore because I retired a year ago, so this was a chance to discover a new continent with my family. California is an amazing place.

“I have had a great and warm welcome by everybody at the club,” says Lloris. “I can feel that the relationships are very natural and simple and everything is easy — I appreciate this environment. It’s very easy to talk to the guys and share what’s happening on and off the field. Step by step, I’m finding my place.”

Lloris at his unveiling at LAFC (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

For most of the past decade, Lloris’ place has been firmly established as a No 1 goalkeeper. He left the north London club as their record Premier League appearance holder with 361 and has played 20 World Cup games for France, more than anyone else. In 2018, he achieved every football player’s greatest ambition and won the World Cup as captain. 

Following defeat in the 2022 World Cup final for the ages against Argentina, he retired from international duty after a 14-year career during which he won 145 caps. He was permanently made captain in August 2012 by Didier Deschamps and wore the armband until his final game more than 10 years later. 

At Spurs, his exit from the starting lineup was less ceremonious. Lloris was substituted at half-time after conceding five goals in a 6-1 defeat away to Newcastle United in April and was not seen again in a Spurs shirt. With the club entering a new era under head coach Ange Postecoglou, they signed Guglielmo Vicario from Empoli last summer as Lloris’ replacement. Meanwhile, the Frenchman went public with his wish to find a new club, calling it the “end of an era” with “desires to find other things”.

Proposals came and went for Lloris, who turned down a move to Saudi Arabia that would have tripled his £100,000 ($126k) per week contract at Spurs, which was set to expire at the end of the season. Finding somewhere where his wife, Marine, and three children — daughters Anna-Rose, 13, and Giuliana, 9, and son Leandro, 4 — would be happy were among the primary factors in deciding on LAFC.

In the interim, Lloris trained every day alongside first-team keepers Vicario, Fraser Forster, Brandon Austin and Alfie Whiteman with no chance of playing. Taking a backseat role was not easy. Still, it offered the chance to develop in different areas. 

“Let’s be honest, it was a difficult period over the last six months,” says Lloris. “When you are a professional footballer, you wake up in the morning and set goals and targets. For the past six months, I have been training every day without a proper goal and I have missed the competition a lot. At the same time, I have been trying to take it positively. I spent more time with the staff and my family and organised my life for the future. I didn’t want to waste time because I had two injuries in the first half of 2023, so I trained well.

“It was really interesting to be inside of the new Tottenham. I was part of every training session and analysis before and after the game. For my football knowledge, there was so much I could add. Ange has his own vision and football approach and it was really interesting to see it closely.”

After largely unsuccessful periods under Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte, Spurs finished eighth last season, 11 points away from the top four, and needed a refresh. 

Lloris is talking to The Athletic as we approach the first anniversary of Conte’s infamous rant following a 3-3 draw at Southampton, an outburst that acted as a precursor to the Italian leaving the club.

So what was the cause of the frustration? Why was he unable to enjoy as much success at Spurs as Pochettino?

“I don’t like to compare the managers because there are different visions, approaches and management types,” says Lloris. “The only thing I can say is that it was very different. But we talk about big names and managers that used to win — he is successful – but his management style is very different.”

Lloris during his last match for Spurs – a 6-1 defeat at Newcastle (Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Spurs needed a refresh and felt Postecoglou was the man who could provide it. With the help of new signings Vicario, James Maddison and Micky van de Ven, as well as the return to form of Son Heung-min and Richarlison, among others, Spurs are re-energised. The fanbase and players have praised his daring, all-out attacking style and despite last weekend’s defeat to Wolves, they are very much in the mix for the Champions League places again.  

“With the change of managers (after Mauricio Pochettino left in 2019), the club also changed the way of playing football,” says Lloris. “The fans were not happy with the way we used to play, but by bringing in Ange, we can see there is a real positive impact. Not only because of the results but also because the fans are enjoying the way the team plays — it’s what the fans demand. It’s an attractive football with risk, aggression and dominant possession. 

“When you look at how the squad has changed in three years, it’s very different. Tottenham are now young with legs and personality. Everybody enjoys watching Tottenham and the credit belongs to Ange.”

While Lloris departed for the United States as a veteran, he joined Spurs in 2012 as one of Europe’s most coveted goalkeepers. 



Ten years of Hugo Lloris: Loyal leader, elder statesman – and underrated Spurs icon

As he developed from prodigious talent to club legend over his 11 years as a consistent starter, Spurs established themselves as a member of the ‘Big Six’ and an occasional contender for the biggest prizes. Under Pochettino, Spurs’ second-placed finish with 86 points in the 2016-17 season was their best of the Premier League era. The season before, they pushed Leicester City for the title, but failure to turn draws into wins saw them fall 11 points short. Had Spurs added to that side with a couple of stars, in Lloris’ opinion, they might have gone all the way.

“Under Pochettino, you could see the progression year after year and we were very competitive. We were close to winning. I think at the time, we missed two or three more players to compete for success and for him to win trophies. Our progression was too fast for the club because, at that time, they were focused on the new stadium. They did not have the financial reserve they do now. At that time, we needed to add a few players and regenerate that group of players.”

While the club were preparing to move into the 62,850-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, they played their home matches in 2017-18 and much of 2018-19 at Wembley Stadium. The home of the England national team is in north west London, about 10 miles as the crow flies from the site of White Hart Lane, and Spurs initially struggled with the adjustment, going winless for their first three matches.  

“When I felt we were most capable of winning a trophy, we had to move to Wembley,” says Lloris. “The year before at White Hart Lane, we finished unbeaten. We won 17 games and drew two; it was a big record. At that time, we thought if we stayed at White Hart Lane, we could match the same tally of points, but we moved to Wembley — a different environment and stadium. We had to deal with that for a year and a half. Even with that, we managed to get into the top four.”

They were unable to match that second-place finish of 2017, a year later finishing 23 points behind eventual champions Manchester City. Reaching the Champions League final in 2019, where they lost to Liverpool, was an abrupt end to Spurs’ era of fighting at the top of domestic and European football.

Lloris collects his runners-up medal after the 2019 Champions League final (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Still, Lloris is keen not to blame any specific moment, player, or person. That includes club chairman Daniel Levy, whom Spurs fans protested against on several occasions last season, including a “Levy Out” balloon demonstration as they lost 3-1 to Brentford in their final home game.

“In the last few years, I had less energy than in the past because we pushed every day, year after year, and never got the reward,” says Lloris. “It was like we arrived, and we were still trying to push, but we didn’t have the same energy as before to go all the way. Every time we faced this difficulty as a club, it was like we were struggling.”

“It’s easy from outside or as a player to say (Levy) should do this or do that. The reality is different. When you’re at the top of the club, you’re always interested in trying to make the best decisions. When you blame him because we did not win trophies, well, he brought some huge names in and it didn’t work. And then you look at the last two or three transfer markets; the club is very active. Right now, the club is in a strong position.”

Despite departing on what might have appeared acrimonious terms, his emotional half-time goodbye in the 3-1 win over Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve closed the era with happy memories. His focus now lies on following Gareth Bale’s achievements in bringing the MLS Cup back to LAFC, having been sold the project by John Thorrington, the general manager.

“(The goodbye) was the best way to end the chapter,” Lloris says. “It shows that you belong to the history of the club and you made a stamp on it through your career. The game is different; you never remember your last. I will always remember my first game, but the last doesn’t matter to me. What is important is that we shake hands with respect. Me and my family will always be members of Tottenham.”

(Top photo: Michael Regan – FIFA via Getty Images)

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