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Exclusive interview: Guillem Balague speaks with Spurs' Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris spoke to Guillem Balague for AS and they spoke about Pochettino, Ronaldo, the Benzema save and being a goalkeeper.
Guillem Balague: Are you a goalkeeper by vocation?
Hugo Lloris: No, I started out with a tennis racquet. Later, during one of the breaks we got from tennis, I started playing football with my friends. I was only five years old. I don’t know why I wanted to be a goalkeeper either, maybe because I could throw myself at the feet of my opponents, for the risk.
GB: It wasn’t to stop goals?
HL: No, I believe what attracted me to being a keeper so early in life was the responsibility that came with it.
GB: Did you have any goalkeepers around you at the time?
HL: No, no. I think the first competition I watched was the World Cup in 1994; however, I only have some images of the final between Brazil and Italy. The goalkeepers were Taffarel and Pagliuca. I also remember a very funny keeper from Sweden but I can’t think of his name.
GB: But you had already started to notice the goalkeepers?
HL: Yes, I think so. The forwards too because I think they have the same responsibility, either make or prevent goals, and this makes me feel important to the team. I like to play, enjoyed competing and this was why I sometimes played as a forward and I didn’t do too bad.
GB: At what age?
HL: I was eight or nine, but later at Nice when I was ten of eleven, they thought I was Dominique Baratelli’s heir. He was an international who played with PSG and Nice too.
GN: Were you tall?
HL: Not too much.
GB: Did you dream of being taller?
HL: No, my height didn’t worry me that much, although when I was 13 I grew a lot very quickly. But I never felt the pressure to be a professional footballer, everything came naturally. When I was 10, I had to choose because at that age they ask you to go and train five times a week and play during the weekends, and it was impossible to continue playing tennis. So then, I thought I would prefer a more collective sport than an individual one, and I realized that as a goalkeeper you are a little bit apart and I needed people around me, and to share all of the emotions, in the good moments and the bad ones.
HL: You needed to be in a group but goalkeepers are so different, they dress different, you wear gloves?
HL: But it’s the perfect combination. You are important and you can’t hide, and that’s good because sometimes you need to compete against yourself too. When you get tired and play a lot of games, you have to fight against yourself. At the same time, the goalkeeper never has to be the center of attention and I don’t want to be. A goalkeeper has to be humble because the next play is always the most difficult one. This is my philosophy on life.
GB: You start training and the rest of the players go one way and you go another. Does it make you feel special?
HL: Yes, you feel a little bit special, but I started to feel that too late because until I became a professional, at 17, I used to warm up with my teammates.
GB: I have heard it said that a few goalkeepers hate being in the rondo, and that’s why they dish out a few kicks so they don’t have to stay in the middle. Does that happen with you?
HL: No, because now with Toni Jiménez (the goalkeeping coach) I feel like the 11th player. Maybe when I was 10, it was different, but now the keeper has to restart play. In teams managed by Pochettino, the keeper has to play out from the back. In the rondos I try to avoid the middle but I like this kind of exercise because it helps me to work with my feet and it's fun too.
GB: Your position has changed the most in the last ten years. How was it when you were ten years old?
HL: I think the biggest evolution in football is the figure of goalkeeper. You always have to remember that you can’t dribble as a goalkeeper, and if you do then it’s because you don’t have any other option or you feel that it is your best option. It’s very risky. You have to deal with that risk, but not the risk created by yourself. As a ten-year-old, I was focused on playing the ball as long as I could. Now I am worried with playing it long or short, but always keeping possession because I don’t want to lose the ball.
GB: Nearly all of the plays are determined by the keeper, the ones that you start.
HL: But at the same time, my teammates need to move around me. Without movement, it’s impossible to find a solution.
GB: Are all of the goals you concede are errors by you? Do you feel like you can always do more?
HL: Yes, that’s my mentality. At the same time, they are not always my fault but I always feel like I can do better. There is no age limit on getting better. When I think of the legends like Casillas or Buffon, if they are still at that level at their age, it is because they have questioned themselves like that. In every sport, the greatest all do it.
GB. Would you be surprised if I told you there were great keepers who don’t like to train?
HL: Yes, a little bit because I like both of those things, the work and the competition, the game. But I am 30 now and if I want to remain at this level, I have to look after my body and spend more time in the gym. When I first met Toni and Mauricio, I started spending more time in the gym and looking after my body, developing more muscle and improving my technique.
GB: You have to throw yourself on the ground 100 times a day. Does it hurt?
HL: It’s true, you get up in the morning and you know you’re going to have to throw yourself on the ground, I don’t know, maybe 100 times. But I have been doing it since I was five or six and I enjoy it. I don’t feel pain, but sometimes I have bad days, like everyone in the world, and it’s more difficult to jump on the ground.
GB: Does Toni change training if he thinks you are having one of those bad days?
HL: He adapts the sessions. It’s important for the trainer to know you well enough to know these things.
GH: I know goalkeepers who invent injuries so they don’t have to get out of bed because of the pressure they are under.
HL: I understand but I have to face the pressure, I am used to putting pressure on myself anyway. I am very demanding and I don’t think that part of me will ever change. Maybe, it’s because of my education or my parents or my grandparents. They showed me that when you have to do something, you do it well, not half-heartedly, because that’s the best way to enjoy things.
GB: Has Mauricio given you a new impetus?
HL: Yes, definitely. I had a great time at Lyon, I arrived there at 21 and immediately went into the national team and found out what it was like to play at the highest level. In that moment, they were a big European club, even bigger than now, with ambitions of winning the Champions League. Later, that changed a little but with the new stadium and they couldn’t compete economically with the other clubs and the way the club worked changed too. They gave more opportunities to the younger players and I left. If I was going to improve, I needed something new and then Tottenham appeared. It was an emotional moment. But after two years, I saw that it was not the club that I expected, the structure, the way we worked wasn’t working properly. My meeting with Mauricio Pochettino was fantastic because it was exactly what I needed at the right time in my career. We built a solid relationship with a lot of confidence and I believe that this motivation is connected. Tottenham is a great club, but we want to make it even make bigger. To be competitive in England and Europe takes time, but little by little we are building a very strong side. I spend a lot of time with him and with Toni looking at videos and they showed me what they expected from me. The first few weeks, you wonder if what they are trying to do will work but after you start to notice at training and later in the game and then you think, “Okay, maybe they're right.”
GB: Was the start with Pochettino difficult?
HL: Yes, at that moment we were far away from the rest of the English sides in terms of winning the Premier League. I remember him saying: “Give me one year”. From the beginning, I felt and shared the energy and the philosophy of his work.
GB: How did you feel leading this young team out at the Santiago Bernabéu?
HL: After the game, I could only feel proud because of the quality of the performance. It was good to show who Tottenham really are because even though we have built a solid reputation in England, we still haven’t in Europe. I think that this season is very important and we want to show our worth in the Champions League. We started well against Dortmund and then at the Bernabéu, a legendary stadium with a lot of history and it was the best place to compete against the winner of the last two Champions Leagues. I played there three times with Lyon and when you walk out onto the field, you can feel the history of the club. The weight of history is something special and I love that.
GB: Harry Kane is doing very well.
HL: He is a competitor and a hard worker. He is like me and he likes to challenge himself. Because of that, he is very ambitious and is so sure about himself. He always wants to score and if he scores a goal, he wants another one. He doesn’t have to talk, make noise or show off in the dressing room….he does by showing. This is the kind of player that the young ones need to see. The leader shows on the field, in training, in the gym, in the game. And after, yes, you can use your voice. Kane is a perfect example and if he has to stay late and finish the session, he will stay, and enjoys working. Football evolves so quickly that you can’t play without working hard.
GB: Did you dream of stopping Ronaldo’s shots or would you prefer that they didn’t come at all?
HL: When I am on the field, I am not thinking about who will shoot. I live in the game 100%. The best response is the collective response. When you have players in front of you that are willing to run, defend, attack and never back down, it gives you energy and confidence.
GB: Do you remember the save from Benzema’s effort?
HL: It came at me very fast, and very close. The precision of the cross was incredible. I felt like I got there late but as a keeper you always have to think that you have a chance. Sometimes, you just try to cover as much space as you possibly can with your body, extending your arms, legs like a handball goalkeeper because from that distance it’s impossible to guess what way the shot is going. When it’s that close, you can’t stop and think because you will get there too late. These types of saves cannot be worked on tactically or technically and you just need a bit of luck; and I had it.