It is a measure of how under much Hugo Lloris is under-appreciated that commentators regularly refer to Harry Kane as Tottenham captain. Understandably Kane leads from the front when he plays, and those qualities were recognised by Gareth Southgate when he chose the Spurs striker as captain ahead of Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson when England were preparing for last summer’s World Cup campaign.
But ask Mauricio Pochettino, or any of his staff at Spurs, and they will tell you the beating heart of Tottenham Hotspur, the senior pro and the man for the big occasion is Lloris. Quiet and understated he may be, but Lloris is one victory away from adding a Champions League winner’s medal the one he won with France as he led his side to victory over Croatia in the World Cup final last July.
Yet even in Moscow, the man from Nice managed to combine his greatest moment as a player with an entry for the bloopers showreel, making a hash of a clearance and allowing Mario Mandzukic to score what was no more than a late consolation goal.
Indeed, for the past season or two Lloris’ occasional errors of judgment, on and off the pitch, have garnered more headlines than his match-winning heroics, which tend to slip under the radar.
He was at fault for Barcelona’s first goal in their 4-2 win at Wembley last October, when he flew out of his area recklessly early in the game, and was again faulted when Toby Alderweireld scored a soft and costly last-minute own goal the last time Spurs met Liverpool, at Anfield in April. Some Spurs fans had been muttering for a while that it was time to give more of a chance to Paolo Gazzaniga, the young Argentinian who happened to be from the same small town, Murphy, as Pochettino.
Most notably off the pitch, Lloris was convicted for drink-driving last autumn, having over-indulged at a London restaurant when some of France’s English-based World Cup-winners had a celebratory meal.
It was out of character for this quiet family man, whose persona is far removed from the stereotypical flash image of top footballers. He used to drive a sensible family car, not a Bentley, and he prefers to spend his spare time doting on his wife and young daughters at home.
But there is also a steely determination about Lloris, an ambition to reach the very pinnacle of the game. He achieved it last July in Moscow with his country, and wants to replicate that winning feeling in Madrid with his club, where he has been striving for this moment since he joined in 2012. Having tasted Champions League football with Lyon, he was sold on the idea of regularly feasting at football’s top table with Tottenham, only to discover the reality, in his first two seasons, was rather different.
Andre Villas-Boas beat off competition from other leading clubs to sign him for Spurs, but the Portuguese manager was gone within 18 months, and his short-term replacement Tim Sherwood failed to take them further than the Europa League. It was the arrival of Pochettino, five years ago this week, that proved a turning point for both Tottenham and Lloris, who admitted he was ready to hand in a transfer request before his first conversation with the Argentinian changed everything.
He was at the World Cup in Brazil, with speculation mounting about his future and an expectaton that the newly-rich Paris St Germain were ready to take him home to France and guarantee a regular Champions League challenge.
“I had some concerns and was questioning myself after those two years when AVB and Tim Sherwood were in charge. But the first meeting with Mauricio Pochettino was very clear for me and for my future. I trusted him from the first second I met him, and because I really understood what he wanted, I fully agreed with his views on football.
"It is fair to say we have the same football view and he has brought so much to the team and the players. From day one I believed in him. He has brought so much energy, so many ideas to the club.
Tottenham’s rise from mid-table under-achievers to title-challengers, Champions League regulars and now finallists has a lot to do with Pochettino’s style, his man-management as much as his tactical nous. The Argentinian is notoriously loyal to those that support him and those around him, and he has never wavered in his belief Lloris is his team’s leader and number one.
The Frenchman has repaid that faith many times over, but most notably during Tottenham’s 1-0 win at Borussia Dortmund in the last 16, when he made a string of world-class saves to keep out the German league-leaders with the tie at a delicate stage.
He has also made three big penalty saves this season, against Leicester and Arsenal in quick succession, and then to deny Sergio Aguero in the early stages of Tottenham’s first leg victory over Manchester City in the quarter-finals. After winning the second leg at the Etihad in dramatic style, and then beating Ajax even more dramatically, Lloris spoke about the never-say-die spirit that Pochettino has engendered in his players.
“This is probably in the English DNA, rather than just ours,” he said after Lucas Moura’s last-gasp winner in Amsterdam. “I’m French, but I have to admit the English have it.
“It happened in the Champions League final in 1999 with Manchester United, and the final in 2005 with Liverpool. It happened again this time with Liverpool (against Barcelona) and now with us.”
And Lloris is a great believer in the unexpected. “When we (France) lost in the final of Euro 2016, we did not expect to be in the World Cup final two years later. And when I won the World Cup last summer, I did not expect to be in the Champions League final now.
“This is massive opportunity for us. We will do everything we can to make it happen.”