Despite being famously modest, Spurs captain Hugo Lloris is not about to settle for second best
INTERVIEW LAURE JAMES
When Mauricio Pochettino named Hugo Lloris as his captain in August 2015, he outlined one of the goalkeeper’s burning ambitions. “He is keen, one day, to play in the Champions League with Tottenham,” explained the Spurs manager. Four years on, and with the trophy just one step away, that gentle target feels endearingly humble. But humility has always been a Lloris hallmark. The Frenchman has had a momentous 12 months, lifting the FIFA World Cup last summer and now helping Spurs reach their first UEFA Champions League final, not to mention his 100th clean sheet for the club against Dortmund in the last 16. He also kept out a Sergio Agüero penalty in the quarter-finals, but Lloris is not one to linger on personal feats. “Just an incident in a game,” he says of his crucial spot-kick save. No one, however, should underestimate his passion and pride as he slips on the armband for the biggest match in Spurs’ history.
What does it mean to Spurs to be in this final?
It’s a great time for the club, for the fans, the players involved and for the coaching staff. Being involved in a Champions League final is like a dream and we need to create the best possible conditions to go into it with the right freshness, both physically and mentally, to be ready to compete, to be ready to fight and do everything we can to win this game.
You had a really difficult start in the group stage. Did you ever think there was a chance Spurs could be eliminated?
Yes, it’s true we got off to a pretty sluggish start and found ourselves with just one point after the first three games. That made things tough. But our hopes remained intact and that’s what enabled us to surpass ourselves and battle to get out of the group. That said, everything had to go our way and we were also dependent on a slip-up from Inter in their final game against PSV. A draw for us against Barcelona was enough. That was the start of our great adventure.
"I'm proud to be a player for this club, to be part of this team and this fantastic run. Even more so as captain"
What impact did the move to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium have on your quarter-final first-leg victory against Manchester City?
The atmosphere was incredible. Partly because it was the second game at our new stadium; there was such great anticipation among the players, fans and club as a whole. That allowed us to deliver the goods against Manchester City. Beating them 1-0 at home and not conceding was the best possible result. That was what helped us go through, because after the two legs the scores were level. The fact that we kept a clean sheet at home meant that we progressed.
That was thanks to you after you kept out Sergio Agüero’s penalty.
It was just an incident in a game. An incident where I needed to be decisive and help the team stay in the contest. The penalty came quite early on and, if we’d conceded that, the game would have gone differently. The fact that I saved it allowed the team to stay in the game and really believe in our chances. It gave us an extra boost and the fans got behind us even more. We were then rewarded for our efforts at the end, with [Heung-Min] Son scoring. That 1-0 win was almost the perfect result against a great City side.
What was it like to come up against one of the best young teams in the Champions League when you faced Ajax in the semi-finals?
Ajax were remarkable. They’re a very difficult side to play against. They like to play attacking football and they have plenty of talented youngsters who are set to have fantastic careers. In the first leg, we didn’t really get going in the first 20 minutes. But the fact that we lost only 1-0 meant we still had hope for the second leg. The first half of that was difficult to manage because although we didn’t start badly, we found ourselves 2-0 down at half-time. I think something happened in the dressing room at half-time and Lucas’s two goals in the space of a couple of minutes got us back to 2-2. That really allowed us to believe in our chances. We had to manage the final 20 or 25 minutes to get through with the third goal we needed.
When Lucas Moura scored the third goal, you ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate with your team-mates.
It was the first time in my career going up for corners and I realised then just how big the pitch is! Then the goal went in and I went up again, to celebrate. It’s the first time I have done that. I did it because the moment was unique, one of my favourite moments so far for sure. This is why we love football.
How proud will you be as the Spurs captain to lead your side at the final in Madrid?
Very proud. I’m proud to be a player for this club, to be part of this team and this fantastic run, even more so as captain. We know that the Champions League is a very tough competition and you really need to surpass yourself to reach the final. You need talent, tactical discipline and a flawless mindset, which is how we’ve got ourselves into this situation and why we’re competing in the final. Many big clubs invest large amounts in top players to try to build the best possible team and win the Champions League, so it’s really difficult to get into this position. We have to appreciate it now we’re here, and we have to give everything to try to win.