Jeffrey Gamby Boulger argues that Hugo Lloris must leave Tottenham to find a club challenging in the Champions League in order to fulfil the entirety of his potential and in order to receive the full extent of the plaudits that he deserves.
On September 1st it was announced that after one of the most infamous transfer sagas in recent times, David De Gea would be staying in Manchester after his protracted and bitter switch to Real Madrid had not been completed before the transfer deadline.
With Costa Rican Keylor Navas due to come the other way as part of the swap deal that would see the Spaniard return home, and current Argentine International goalkeeper Sergio Romero also joining the Red Devils this summer, one name it seems that was not in contention to take over from the Spanish international however is Frenchman Hugo Lloris.
Captain for club and country, consistently excellent on the pitch and regarded by many as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world, one could easily be forgiven for asking why, with the timing almost perfect, was such a move never more seriously considered?
The question could be answered firstly by simply suggesting United had never actually planned to sanction the sale of their prized possession in the first place. Had a transfer been legitimately close at any point and completed in good time and not rushed through with minutes to spare, such a fine player as Hugo Lloris would have surely been considered by any of the world’s top clubs.
Were De Gea to leave, they would need not only a competent replacement, but a player who could legitimately challenge the Spanish international in terms of goalkeeping ability. This translates at worst as a like for like replacement, not easy for a player of Dea Gea’s class.
To this extent there are few players who could fulfil this role as well as Lloris. After joining Tottenham from Lyon in 2012 for an initial €10 million, Lloris has enjoyed a successful career in the Premier League to date making 103 appearances at the time of writing. But with potentially his greatest opportunity to join one of the biggest sporting franchises in the world having come and pass, what is the next step for Hugo Lloris?
With another season in the Premier League with Tottenham, his presence will once again benefit Spurs in their quest for Champions League qualification. A player with supreme quality and grace, Lloris has long been regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Indeed, this is a player who at still only 28 years of age, has won the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year award on three occasions, 1 x Coupe de France, 1 x Trophée des champions, 2 x UNFP Player of the Month awards, 1 x UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2005 as well as being nominated for the UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2010, losing out to then Champions League-winning keeper Júlio César of Internazionale. He was also named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year three times before his switch to the English capital.
Unfortunately, it is perhaps here that Lloris arguably becomes a victim of circumstance. Tottenham are undoubtedly a member of the Premier League’s elite set of clubs but are unlikely to win the Premier League at all in the immediate future. While qualifying for the Champions League is the annual objective, Spurs have in recent years had to settle for Europa League qualification, something seen in England as a thankless task thanks to the notorious and punishing Premier League schedule.
With no silverware since a League Cup triumph in 2008, four years before Lloris arrived, it is perhaps understandable when one delves a little deeper to see why such a fine player who is captain for both club and country is not in the spotlight more often.
Whether Manchester United were being deliberately obtuse in their negotiations with Real in an effort to stall De Gea’s move to the Bernabéu is questionable, but had the transfer gone through, it would have left the Red Devils needing a competent replacement long before the transfer window closed.
With that replacement apparently being Argentinian Sergio Romero, whom Louis Van Gaal has worked with before at AZ Alkmaar and a player now somewhat ironically relegated to the bench now the young Spaniard is staying put, it seems for now at least Frenchman Lloris will be staying at White Hart Lane.
Only time will tell if this is a position that he will happily accept for much longer as he approaches the peak of his career. However, in his defence it should be noted that with the European Championships being held next summer, this would have been a defining factor in any potential move, at least this season.
Many Frenchmen have chosen to stay put for one more season, not risking a season of transition in the build-up to the finals. And indeed we have seen even with the very best players that joining prestigious clubs isn’t a guaranteed success, with Angel Di Maria’s big money move to United the previous summer a prime example.
De Gea himself was criticised in his early United career, and should the opportunity realistically have presented itself to replace the Spaniard, there is every chance Lloris would still be lining up for the London club, for this campaign at least.
But with the reality that next year’s European Championships presents Lloris the perfect showcase to display his immense talent on the world stage as captain of the host nation, perhaps a good question to ask is how much longer Spurs will be able to hold on to a player surely to be in high demand.
And curiously, as Europe sits on the cusp of another major international tournament, and with the game focusing on the developing art of goalkeeping in more detail than ever before, there is seemingly no shortage of high profile clubs arguably in need of a player of the Frenchman’s calibre.
Bayern Munich currently have the exceptional Manuel Neuer, commonly regarded as the most gifted goalkeeper in world football at this time, while Chelsea have Belgium Thibaut Courtois, who at 23 and already playing as the first choice for Belgium and Chelsea, will only get better.
For the remainder of this season at least, Manchester United can still enjoy the services of De Gea, while neighbours City have England first choice Joe Hart as their number one. All of whom are agile, technically proficient and experienced at international level. But looking further afield, there could be cases made at other clubs who arguably lack a world-class goalkeeper, with which Lloris can genuinely claim to be when playing at his best.
Gianluigi Buffon is a legend of the game and one of the finest goalkeepers of all time, but at 37 years old his time in the game is coming to an end for Juventus. Laurent Blanc has decided to give German understudy Kevin Trapp his starting berth this season at PSG and with Barcelona putting their faith in compatriot Marc-André ter Stegen, another being groomed for the future, one could easily see a player with the ability of Hugo Lloris being a natural fit for any number of Champions League contenders, especially with the backing of another solid showing for Les Bleus next summer.
Indeed, with Arsenal signing Premier League stalwart Petr Čech after 11 successful years at rivals Chelsea, one could legitimately question why Lloris has been continually overlooked and not already given the chance to represent one of the very best clubs in Europe, a chance his talent more than deserves.
And what makes the fact that Lloris is currently participating in his fourth season at Tottenham arguably the more surprising, with the respect to the London club, is that in addition to receiving a quality player, such a move would be extremely low-risk in the long-term.
This is an experienced player who has recently been appointed permanent captain for Tottenham in August by Manager Mauricio Pochettino, and aside from consistently excellent performances domestically, Lloris also has significant international pedigree to his name.
A regular for Deschamps at international level, Lloris has been captain for Les Bleus since 2012. With 69 appearances to date, perhaps his most significant impact came when the Frenchman was praised for his displays against the Republic of Ireland that helped France qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Former Les Bleus goalkeeper Grégory Coupet called his performances “phenomenal”, and he was dubbed “Saint Lloris”, a patriotic take on the nickname of former Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas, considered one of the best goalkeepers ever in his prime.
Boasting superior reflexes, similarly to De Gea, and a fantastic temperament, Lloris is also adept at playing the new-age ‘sweeper’ role, which he has performed regularly for Spurs.
While this does however bring with it the caveat of occasionally finding himself out of position and making rash clearances, it is a trait and role he shares with Manuel Neuer and is another asset in the Frenchman’s repertoire. This makes him tactically versatile, allowing him much greater influence on the field giving his game the extra dimension required to reach world-class status.
Lloris is formidable in one-on-one situations, and along with his agile reflexes and his ability to take command in the area when called upon, the Frenchman has often been responsible for some truly outstanding performances in his career to date.
So much so, one must ask whether remaining at Tottenham Hotspur will prevent him from being truly considered in that bracket of world-class goalkeepers that his talent arguably deserves.
Perhaps it is harsh to suggest that in order to gain this admiration he must leave the London club, but there is no doubt that a player of Lloris’s stature deserves the opportunity at the very least to compete at the forefront of domestic and European competition, something he cannot easily attain at Tottenham.
Although Spurs under Chairman Daniel Levy are competitive on and off the field and regularly qualify for the Europa League, this is very much a case of a player taking himself as far as he can go, and if he is to be considered as truly world-class then he may find himself facing a difficult choice come the end of Euro 2016.
Whether he could, and will, realistically move on to one of the world’s best clubs however is questionable. Indeed, in 2013 amid speculation linking him with a move to Monaco, the player himself insisted he had left Lyon to play abroad.
And while any move back to France would surely have offered Lloris the opportunity to return to the Champions League, realistically only PSG or even Monaco could finance such a move let alone offer the same kind of quality in Ligue 1 compared to the other top European leagues, sadly, especially given the mass exodus of talent from France this summer.
So where does that leave Lloris? A proven Champions League performer already during his time at Lyon for which earned various nominations awards, a player with so much obvious quality does not deserve to be absent from Europe’s premier competition.
But while Manchester United were adamant in their dealings with Real that only a world record fee would convince them to part ways with De Gea, one would scarcely imagine therefore what price Lloris would command in comparison, considering he has only improved during his tenure so far in England.
And with only the world’s best clubs able to finance such a transfer already seemingly putting their faith in younger prospects, or in Arsenal’s case choosing the tried-and-tested option in the form of Petr Čech, one can begin to understand why perhaps an opportunity to represent the most prestigious of clubs has not presented itself thus far.
And when one also considers that Daniel Levy is a notoriously tough negotiator, with Gareth Bale’s world record £85 million move to Madrid testament to the difficulty one would have in tempting Lloris away from London, it becomes increasingly clear why many admirers could have been tempted to opt for other alternatives, despite the fact that Lloris has proved he would be worth the effort.
Certainly, in the wake of their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace on 20th September, Pochettino acknowledged the contribution of his captain, who helped his side to victory with several fine saves, saying:
“We need to recognise [Lloris] is one of the very best in the world. His performance was unbelievable, top class.”
Had Levy been willing to sell to a rival in the same fashion as Roman Abramovich with the sale of Petr Čech, and Dea Gea had left for Madrid then one could easily see Lloris move to a club with a stature such as rivals Arsenal or Manchester United, should he stay in England.
But whatever the future holds, it has become increasingly clear that mere Premier League exposure is not enough to satisfy him. Speaking to RMC in June 2015:
“The Champions League is an aim and a personal ambition of mine… It’s the highest level in Europe. I keep calm over all that, let’s see how things develop.”
Lloris is already the undisputed captain for Les Bleus and has cemented himself as France’s finest in his position. Come the end of Euro 2016 next summer, if the Frenchman is not to be consigned to the fringes of excellence, surely he will have to make a move, barring an exceptional 2015/16 campaign from Tottenham in the Premier League. He certainly deserves his chance to shine not bjust brightly but as the brightest.