With just a few more games to play until the end of the 2020-2021 season, the next few months have the makings of one of the most important periods in Tottenham Hotspur’s recent history. After getting it wrong with the appointment of José Mourinho, Tottenham finds themselves in a curious position, trying to revitalize the possession-based, progressive approach that was established in the era of Mauricio Pochettino.
After Saturday’s 3-1 defeat against Leeds United, Tottenham suffered a huge blow in their goal to finish in a Champions League position. With just three games left, Spurs’ aspirations for European football now almost assuredly are to qualify for a Europa League position. Should Spurs fall entirely out of Europe it would put them in an even more dire situation as they approach an important summer period where many changes are needed.
In this series, we continue to take a look at a number of players whose futures with the club are uncertain. Next on the docket is keeper and club captain Hugo Lloris, one of the club’s most respected and longest-serving players.
Since signing for Tottenham in 2012, Lloris has been nothing short of consistent and steady. In the seven years Lloris has been in north London, he has featured in nearly 300 matches across all competitions under three, potentially four, different managers.
Despite all of the shuffling in Tottenham’s lineup in the past decade, from the days of Andre Villas-Boas to current interim manager Ryan Mason, Lloris has experienced many highs and lows just like much of the club. While he has not led the club to silverware during his Spurs tenure, he should still be considered one of the club’s most integral members over the course of his nine-year tenure at Spurs and up there as one of Spurs’ greatest ever keepers.
On an individual level, Lloris has had a successful career. A World Cup winner in 2018 as captain for France, Lloris has been a hugely influential player for both club and country. While he will turn 35 this year, Lloris has several years left before he’s ready to hang up his boots and could continue to be a solid keeper for Spurs for the next few seasons. However, as Lloris enters the final year of his contract, it could be the time for Tottenham to cash in and opt for a different option between the sticks.
The Pros in Retaining Lloris
For starters, it is clear that the club’s biggest issues stem from their defense. For years the Belgian duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen defined Tottenham’s defense, but since Vertonghen left for Benfica, Spurs have yet to have a single defender ably fill in as a lock-down starter to fill his role.
Due to a propensity for defensive individual errors, Tottenham’s season has continuously been defined by a lack of a reliable back line, something that has had a trickle-down effect on Lloris. Perhaps due to this, it has become even more apparent the value that Lloris brings to the team. In Saturday’s defeat at Leeds, Spurs conceded three goals, but it could have been five or six had it not been for multiple saves from Lloris.
Despite his age, Lloris’ best attribute has continuously been his shot-stopping ability. At just over 76%, Lloris has been one of the better shot-stoppers in the league this past season. In 35 league appearances, Lloris’ 11 clean sheets rank fourth in the Premier League. Having a keeper with the ability to make incredible saves is a huge boon when your defense has been floundering.
After Spurs gave up a 3-0 lead to West Ham in October, Mourinho tinkered with Spurs’ philosophy. Mourinho shifted from a more progressive approach to his usual, overly defensive tactics, which led to more opponent possession and defensive pressure in Tottenham’s box. Spurs look to get back to playing more on the front foot by seeking a manager who is more attacking-minded, and doing so could relieve Lloris of a heavy burden that he has faced in 2020-21 season.
However, Spurs also need a rebuild. Tottenham have the opportunity to make a major change this summer. Keeping Lloris in place would allow the club to make improvements to the other parts of the roster that are in desperate need of improvement. Additionally, by having Lloris back, Spurs will once again have their club captain back in the starting XI as well as a face who is not unfamiliar to a change of approach in the dressing room and on the training ground.
The Cons in Retaining Lloris
Despite his acrobatic skills as a shot-stopper, there will always be the chance of individual error from Lloris. He is no stranger to letting in weak goals and while Lloris may always have the ability to make amazing reaction saves in his locker, he has become less and less athletic with age. His distribution and decision making have likewise come under some scrutiny in recent years.
Premier League keepers have gone through a bit of a transition in the past couple of seasons. In comparison to years past, keepers nowadays are much more stronger in their distribution and are more comfortable on the ball. Take Ederson from Manchester City — he operates almost as another outfielder on the field, giving them an even more skilled option on the ball in their heavy possession-based approach. Lloris has never been that comfortable on the ball and it has led to numerous mistakes over the years that have burned him and the club.
Sometimes players run their course at a club. In recent seasons, Spurs have seen their overall form dip, perhaps in part due to the club’s inability to move players on, and bring in in fresh faces and abilities. Letting Lloris go be painful, but could provide an opportunity for a fresh start for whomever Spurs bring in as manager as they seek to mold the club in their image.
As a club captain, Lloris’ approach is to lead by example. Aside from the argument with Son Heung-min prior to halftime of the home Everton fixture last season, Lloris’ leadership has typically been quiet and minimal in public, but influential behind the scenes. Despite this, there have been occasions where Lloris has been particularly critical of certain aspects of the club culture. After Tottenham crashed out of the Europa League in March, Lloris was quite vocal in his dismay, calling the loss and performance a disgrace, perhaps speaking to something deeper that had been going on behind the scenes:
“We are a club full of ambition but I think the team at the moment is just a reflection of what is going on at the club. We have a lack of basics and lack of fundamentals. All our performances are in relation to that. I think mentally we should be stronger and more competitive. Today I didn’t feel that on the field unfortunately.”
It’s not entirely clear that this is Lloris speaking in anything more than generalities, but it could be that Lloris is ready for a new challenge after a decade at Spurs.
There is finally the issue of Lloris’ contract, which expires at the end of the 2021 season. At present it does not look like he is likely to sign a contract extension, which makes this summer pivotal — either Tottenham sells this summer or they risk a situation where they will not get much for him in return, or let him leave for free, much like Christian Eriksen in the January 2020 transfer window.
For Tottenham to truly re-build this offseason, it will be important for the club to let go of a lot of the players who have seen their production dip from years prior. That has not been the case for Lloris despite his increasing age. He has been a consistent player and a cornerstone for the club. While that should be recognized, it has become clearer and clearer that Spurs need to refresh with a new group of players; cutting ties with one of the longest-serving members of the team could jumpstart that desperately-needed process.
Keeping Lloris would not necessarily be a bad thing, especially if the Frenchman were to re-sign for a few more years to give the club assurance for the future. If Spurs were to have Lloris back for next season, it would hopefully mean that the money allocated to transfers this summer would be utilized to improve the (many) other weaknesses across the team.
As Tottenham embark on changing their philosophy this summer, it would bode well for the squad to get younger and to have newer faces installed within the dressing room. In comparison to Lloris, there are far too many players within the club who have worn out their welcome in large part due to the inconsistent choices of lineups this year as well as the lack of investment brought in to provide competition.
This club is in desperate need of a rebuild and while opting to part ways with Lloris could have some ripple effect, letting Hugo go and reinvesting the funds in a younger, cheaper keeper would signal a clear intent that Tottenham are ready to turn the page on this current roster of players and begin something new.
With Spurs hopefully investing to improve their defense this summer, opting for a younger keeper with better distribution would be a step in the right direction. Spurs went the Ligue 1 route last time when investing in a starting keeper. Perhaps, the club would be wise to go that route this summer in Lille’s Mike Maignan, or a homegrown replacement such as Burnley’s Nick Pope or now-relegated West Brom’s Sam Johnstone.
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