If there is a single biggest example of Tottenham Hotspur’s slide into mediocrity in the early part of 2023, it’s Hugo Lloris. Tottenham’s club captain, recently retired captain of France, World Cup winner, and World Cup runner-up, Lloris has been an incredible servant to the club for a decade. But this season his age has finally caught up to him — according to Opta his five mistakes that have led to goals is the most of any player in the Premier League this season. Once known as among the best shot stoppers in world football and despite an excellent World Cup, this season Hugo has looked shaky at the back, slow to react, and error-prone.
Hugo wasn’t necessarily the sole reason that Tottenham blew a 2-0 halftime lead at Manchester City yesterday — there’s plenty of blame to go around — but his performance certainly didn’t help. He flapped at a ball for City’s first goal, and let another one past him at the near post. His performance against Arsenal in the North London Derby last week was nigh catastrophic.
And even Hugo seems to admit that he’s struggling right now. In an interview with Dan Kilpatrick of the Evening Standard, Hugo admitted that he’s lacking “mental freshness” after a long tournament in Qatar, but still defended his play and his ability to be a top-level keeper in the Premier League, saying that some of the goals he’s let in were a lot more difficult than what they looked like on TV.
“I can’t complain. You’re a professional and you just follow a rhythm. But obviously when you’re involved with the national team and you go until the last day of the World Cup, you come back and miss mental freshness. But you need to get back on track and help your team.
“When you look at the Arsenal goal, I can be in a good position but the deflection hit the ball on my chest and with the spin it goes over [the line]. It’s something that even if I wanted to do on purpose, I can’t. Even last night, when you look at the third [City] goal, a deflection makes the ball go over my knee.
“At any moment I try to anticipate, just setting and waiting. There are a lot of things like that happening to our team. It’s a period where we need to stick together, keep working and hopefully bring the luck back.”
Hugo isn’t the only reason why Spurs are struggling, but as club captain he shoulders the bulk of the burden. When asked whether Spurs are, as a team, also suffering from a lack of “mental freshness,” Hugo said that the team’s struggles are not mental and expressed hope that Tottenham can still turn things around.
“On the mentality, there’s nothing to say. When you look at the guys working every day, we can’t blame anyone.
“Probably we have a lack of consistency in our performances. I believe we struggle a bit to play 90 to 95 minutes at our best, things we were able to do last season, especially in the last two to three months.
“But the most important period is ahead of us: February, March, April and May is where you play for everything and it’s important going forward to get our level back and everyone to finish the season strongly, hopefully.”
There’s a lot of recent revisionism on social media and amongst fans concerning Hugo’s career; it would be churlish not to admit how immense Hugo has been for this club over the vast duration of his Spurs tenure. He is, without hyperbole, the best keeper Spurs have had in decades, possibly since Pat Jennings. Tottenham would not be where they are now without him between the sticks, making saves and marshaling the defense.
But Father Time is, as they say, undefeated. Hugo is 36 now and there has been an unquestionable decline in his performances over the past couple of seasons, and things now appear to be coming to a head in this current campaign. Hugo’s contract expires at the end of the 2023-24 campaign, but Spurs are already prioritizing signing a long-term successor to his position, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he decides to leave the club this summer, either for France, overseas to MLS, or even to retirement.
Spurs are looking at options at the moment, including Brentford keeper David Raya, and Atletico Madrid’s 30-year old keeper Jan Oblak has also been mentioned. It’s not clear whether a new first team keeper will come in yet this month, or next summer.