Hugo Lloris is the new record holder for the most appearances in a France shirt in the history of “Les Bleus”, after making his 143rd cap in the 2-1 win against England in the quarter-finals of Qatar 2022, breaking Lilian Thuram’s record of 142 matches played for France, which held for nearly two decades.
But the France goalkeeper and captain, one of the leaders of his team, despite, by his own admission, being a quiet person and using his silent leadership to inspire other teammates, could have had a totally different career. In fact, he first started playing tennis, only to bow down to football’s calling, as he always loved the sport.
But Lloris did not have the talent needed to become a player, especially in a country like France, where young players are earmarked and nurtured to be creative and their technique refined. No, Lloris always knew he was going to be a goalkeeper, one of the most difficult roles in the sport.
“Well, to give you a little story, I started with tennis. And it was in the tennis club that I started to dive around. Don’t ask me why, but I wanted to go in goal and to get in amongst my friends’ feet, to go and block balls headfirst. The boss of the restaurant, who was also an amateur goalkeeper, said to me instantly, ‘you have to go and play football’ and that’s how things started,” said Lloris in an interview for radio station Europe 1.
But Lloris did not have to play football, he could have done anything he wanted, due to his sociological background, as the son of a banker father and lawyer mother. Without any financial pressure, he only wanted to play and be a goalkeeper. And he did pretty well until now.
Born in Nice, on the French Riviera, Lloris started football at local club OGC Nice and has only featured for three teams in his career – the one he started at, French giants Olympique Lyon and Tottenham Hotspur, where he has been plying his trade since 2012 and ranks tenth in the all-time appearances standings, with 437 matches, having a big chance to jump on the sixth place next season, as only 43 matches separate him from Glenn Hoddle.
He slowly became better and better and entered the elite club, as he made his first appearance for France in 2008, becoming a regular, despite being only 22 years old and goalkeepers usually delivering better performances as they grow older, with experience key in their game.
His leadership skills were also underlined in the same year when his mother died, but Lloris insisted to play for Nice, despite being given the option to take some days off and mourn.
But it was not only the character that made him indispensable at Tottenham or for the France national team. Lloris is an elite goalkeeper, with excellent command of aerial balls and great reflexes, being named the Goalkeeper of the Year three times in Ligue 1, the French championship, where he played between 2005 and 2012.
At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Lloris was also instrumental with some excellent saves, including one in the quarter-finals against Uruguay. Four years later, at Qatar 2022, Lloris also delivered a masterpiece against England, saving some difficult shots and forcing club teammate Harry Kane to miss a penalty, enabling France to win the quarter-finals, 2-1.
Usually, goalkeepers also train with tennis balls, to test their reflexes and enhance their performances. For Lloris, tennis is still in his blood.
“But there’s still some tennis in me. I grew up watching my dad play it. My grandma played tennis for a long time too. And then when I started to walk, with my very first steps, I had a racket in my hand. My main idol is Pete Sampras. He’s the only sportsperson I had a poster of and I was a huge fan. I try to play once a year when I’m on holiday,” said Tottenham and France’s goalkeeper.
And before any other question is asked, he delivers some words that embody his spirit. He is not the flashy type of persona, nor one that tries to use bravado to take the centre stage.
“For Sampras, there was no social media, very little media, and the internet was only just starting. I loved what this great winner emanated and the personality behind that,” concludes Lloris.
What’s sure is that France needed exactly this type of personality for a leader, in a locker room full of potential, but which usually fell short of expectations. Lloris became a captain of the national team after a huge debacle at South Africa 2010, when France was eliminated early.
They needed a safe pair of hands both on and off the pitch. And Lloris, now the most capped France international ever, was the right person to lead the team.