Considering France coach Didier Deschamps didn’t want to be drawn on the subject, he made a pretty poor attempt at not talking about Hugo Lloris and the goalkeeper’s new Tottenham coach Andre Villas-Boas this week. At a press conference to announce his squad for this week’s World Cup qualifiers against Finland and Belarus, Deschamps was asked about the comments that Andre Villas-Boas made about Brad Friedel after Tottenham’s weekend draw with Norwich.
“I saw what Villas-Boas said but if I comment on his statements, it will make an impact in England. But it’s true I was surprised,” said Deschamps.
A quick recap: Villas-Boas had just watched Friedel put in a Man of the Match performance for Spurs, with a late save from Robert Snodgrass earning his side a point, after which he said: “Brad is doing extremely well and deserves to be playing and he’ll continue to do so. Obviously the competition increases for him but the place is his because he is a tremendous goalkeeper and he deserves that spot.”
Realistically though, what else could Villas-Boas have said? That Friedel did well considering he is 41? That he has played 307 consecutive games in the Premier League, but that was his last? While AVB couldn’t have said anything else than he did, Deschamps could certainly have said less, because he went on to say: “I don’t want to create a problem that doesn’t exist today and I hope won’t exist tomorrow…even if Hugo didn’t appreciate his comments.” But that’s exactly what Deschamps did: create a problem.
The next day’s L’Equipe ran a story with the headline, ‘And Another Problem?’ above a picture of Lloris while Le 10 Sport asked if Spurs had just spent €10m to put a player on the bench. You can see why it has become a story in France: not only does Lloris play for the national team, he is team captain and a symbol of Lyon, as well as their boom-to-bust finances.
“From a sporting perspective, this move makes no sense,” wrote France Football. “A healthy club does not push its best player towards the exit-door…but because the players Lyon wanted to sell have mostly stayed, it was necessary for others to leave.” The magazine writes it’s the end of an era for Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas—the days when he could buy low and sell high now well and truly over. The tipping-point came in 2009 when he sold Karim Benzema for €35m and splurged on likes of Michel Bastos, Lisandro Lopez, Aly Cissokho and Bafe Gomis to the tune of €72m immediately thereafter. This summer, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy out-Aulased Aulas (though he went on to get Pinto da Costa-ed just before 11pm).
The strangest element to this saga is that Lloris is involved in controversy at all. After all, when he was appointed France captain the first thing he did was insist he would be a vocal presence in the dressing-room. That’s when footage of him swearing after in the tunnel (he said, “I’ve had it with this shit!” before slamming the dressing-room door following Lyon’s 2-2 draw with Nice after being 2-0 up) actually worked in his favour. “You don’t know what I’m like in the dressing-room. Whether I’m captain or not, I’m not afraid to speak out,” he said on his appointment. But his silence during all the dressing-room rows in the France camp during Euro 2012 actually spoke volumes.
Lloris proved to be a hugely popular figure at Lyon, with an emotional send-off at the Stade Gerland on Saturday evening. Within an hour of Villas-Boas talking about Friedel, Lloris had tears in his eyes when he addressed the crowd on his Lyon farewell. His team-mate Lisandro Lopez handed him a shirt which said ‘Merci Hugo’ on the back, and he took a lap of honour with the shirt draped over his shoulders and his daughter in his arms. “He left with the elegance and restraint that characterises him,” said France Football.
Given his personality, it is highly unfair that the English press has already depicted Lloris as being at war with his new coach (sample headline: ‘AVB Comments Anger Lloris’), while one newspaper suggested Lloris was “already fearing…that he had made a mistake” after mentioning “Lloris’s outburst”. And yet Lloris has said nothing in public since Spurs’ match against Norwich last Saturday. Welcome to England, Hugo.
So what will happen next? Well, according to Jerome Alonzo, ex-PSG goalkeeper who, like Lloris, began his career in Nice, this will all die down fairly soon. “For me, it’s simple,” Alonzo told France 2. “Because of Spurs’ poor start, Villas-Boas has little margin for error and can’t afford to disrupt the dressing-room. He knows that Lloris is a stronger keeper but Friedel is a senior figure in the dressing-room. He can play for two or three more games but after that. Lloris should get his chance.”
At the moment, Villas-Boas can’t win: when he defends Friedel, he’s accused of upsetting Lloris, while if Lloris goes straight into the team for Spurs’s next match against Reading, the coach is alienating a senior player. If Spurs had a few more points on the board by now, these decisions would be regarded as less important.
Lloris has two games on France duty and after Tuesday’s home match against Belarus, he will train with his new team for the first time next Wednesday. Before he goes, he might want to thank Deschamps for making a mess of everything before he’s even arrived.