Lloris Must Play the Waiting Game
By Kieran Guilbert
Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris may have to wait longer than he expected to establish himself as the club’s first choice keeper after an inspired start to the season from Brad Friedel.
The France captain, who joined Spurs for £12.3m on deadline day, has urged manager Andre Villas-Boas to select him as the club’s number one, saying he needs a run of games to play at his best.
Lloris made his long awaited Premier League debut in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, ending Friedel’s record 310-game sequence of consecutive league starts.
“I was used to playing every three days in Lyon,” he said. “Necessarily, to progress, to be effective, it’s better to play every week with his team. I hope to play more and more to be at my best. When you sign at the last minute, it’s never easy. I still need a few games to find the rhythm.
“Over the past month, I’ve played only three games. It takes a little more concentration, especially working at training. I try to compensate but what matters is the game at the weekend.”
Many expected Lloris, Tottenham’s record signing for a goalkeeper, to automatically slot into the side upon his arrival at the end of August. However, a series of inspired performances from Friedel has seen him remain Villas-Boas’ preferred keeper. While the statistics show that the 41-year-old American has conceded nine goals in six league games, this is more of a reflection on those in front of him. Spurs’ record oldest player has shown a consistency, confidence and agility that belie his age.
Villas-Boas has been refreshingly honest about his thoughts on the goalkeeping situation. Shortly after the signing of Lloris, he said Friedel deserved to continue playing after his steady start to the season.
"That is the common-sense approach and anything else would be extremely unfair. I have had a conversation with Hugo and he fully understands this,” Villas-Boas said last month.
Prior to his Premier League debut, Lloris has been given game time in the Europa League, starting two games, a 0-0 draw with Lazio and a 1-1 with Panathinikos, in which he has been solid if not spectacular. To Lloris’ credit, remembering that this is the captain and first choice for his national team, he has shown patience with his limited opportunities to date, refused to complain publically and praised Spurs’ goalkeeping coaches and even his rival Friedel.
His teammate Stephen Caulker has spoken glowingly of the Frenchman, insisting he has shown no sign of an ego despite his reputation as one of the world’s top keepers.
“He’s been very humble, he’s been a good character amongst the boys,” said Caulker. “He’s had to be patient as well with Brad playing fantastically well, so the gaffer gave him the nod for his first Premier League start and he did really well.
While Lloris himself has been happy to wait for his turn in the spotlight, his compatriots have not been so understanding. France manager Didier Deschamps publically expressed his surprise in response to Villas-Boas statements that Lloris would not immediately walk into the Spurs team.
"If I comment, it will make an echo on the other side of the Channel. I'm not going to create a problem that I don't have today. I have other problems to solve but, if it happens, it deserves consideration”, Deschamps said.
This frustration from the national coach was tame compared to the reaction from ex-Manchester United and France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who recently told French newspaper ‘Le Parisien’ he was dumbfounded by Spurs’ goalkeeping situation.
“Lloris is one of the five best goalkeepers in the world,” Barthez said. “He is faster than Friedel, he jumps higher and he is very strong mentally”
“What is happening now is incomprehensible, but I'm not concerned. He will become the centrepiece of the club. Hugo is a calm guy, a good worker. Tottenham will not let him stay on the bench for a long time.”
Aside from Deschamps and Barthez, the French media have also been astonished by Lloris’ lack of starts for Spurs. There is a shared disbelief that their captain of two years, who won Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year in three of his four seasons with Lyon, is second choice to an ageing American.
The intensity of the attention from not only the media, but the football world as a whole upon this impending goalkeeping rivalry represents the envious dilemma which Villas-Boas faces.
In Brad Friedel, he has one of the Premier League’s most reliable and experienced keepers who has seldom received the praise he deserves. The young pretender, Hugo Lloris has shown impressive maturity and talent for a 25-year-old, a relative teenager in goalkeeping terms.
After his heroic performance at Old Trafford helped Tottenham secure a famous victory against Manchester United- their first win at the ground since 1989- Friedel can feel hard done by to have been dropped in favour of Lloris for the win over Aston Villa, especially considering the club’s recent rich vein of form, winning their last three league games to go into fifth place.
Whether or not Villas-Boas stays true to his recent promise to rotate his keepers and return Friedel to his team ‘as soon as possible’ remains to be seen. What cannot be doubted is that the American veteran and consummate professional will keep striving to perform the highest level and keep his future replacement Hugo Lloris at bay for as long as possible