It isn’t hard to imagine a sheepish grin coming over Hugo Lloris’ face as his old club Lyon came out of the plastic ball in December’s Europa League draw, ready to face his new one, Tottenham. Perhaps that’s because the goalkeeper does a nice line in understated modesty.
Still, waters run deep, in this case. Nobody at the Stade Gerland - Lyon's esteemed home - needs any convincing over Lloris’ determination and commitment, as evidenced by the uniquely warm reception he experienced when he said his on-pitch goodbyes in September’s game with Valenciennes, after completing his move to London.
Any doubts that the choirboy looks hid a competitive spirit were put to bed long before, not least when when Canal + cameras caught an incandescent Lloris throwing open a dressing room door and shouting “we s••t ourselves" after Lyon conceded a late equaliser at his old club Nice in April 2011.
The doubts from the Hexagon are, frankly, whether Lloris couldn’t have done a bit better for himself than Tottenham. For all their status as an exciting, rising force in England, it's Champions League that really means something on the continent, a competition with which Spurs are still only on nodding terms.
When Lloris spoke to RTL at the weekend, there was a hint of self-justification in his words. “There haven’t been many opportunities at the biggest clubs for a while now,” he said, “because they all have well-established goalkeepers. All the same, I needed a new challenge and Tottenham convinced me that I’d be able to continue my progression here.”
This should be the moment when Lloris shows his old mates how well he’s done for himself, even if he does so from the bench. Tottenham are in fine form while Lyon have slipped from the title pace for the first time this season with successive defeats, the last of which was Sunday’s shambolic home reverse to Lille.
That Lloris has really added something to Spurs may be evident at White Hart Lane, as both sets of supporters yearn for one of his trademark sorties tonight, with Brad Friedel in goal. André Villas-Boas chose him partly for his ability to complement a defence that plays high up the pitch and it’s worked well for Spurs. as evidenced in Saturday’s win against Newcastle when he raced from his line to deny Shola Ameobi an undeserved equaliser in the dying moments. It was a save that Friedel, for all his merits, never could have made.
Conversely, Lyon have not done too badly out of the deal either. Currently strapped for cash – which is why the notoriously hard-bargaining president Jean-Michel Aulas was squeezed into letting Lloris go relatively cheaply by Daniel Levy – the club didn’t spend on a replacement, but promoted deputy Rémy Vercoutre to the first XI.
The 32-year-old had played a mere 40 Ligue 1 games in 10 years prior to this season, but has proved his own doubters wrong with a string of fine performances. Always a key presence in the dressing room, Vercoutre has helped foster a strong spirit in a young team. He rises to the occasion in Europe too, having played a blinder (twice) against Athletic Bilbao in the group stages. In his previous life as a locum, a splendid penalty save from Thomas Hitzelsperger secured a 2007 Champions League win over Stuttgart.
Lloris’ decision to make the move to north London has been proved right, and he will continue to be an asset for Tottenham for years to come. What's more, his nature means he will also take quiet pleasure in Vercoutre’s flourishing in his stead.
Spurs are 1.75 favourites to record a 1st leg victory at home tonight. Click here to bet on tonight's Europa League action.
Click here to read more from European football expert Andy Brassell.