As club vs country rows go, the one which appeared to come from nowhere to dominate the headlines between France national team boss Didier Deschamps and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas over goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, but did the ‘water carrier’ have a point after all?
Now, for those of you that may need refreshing, here is what Deschamps had to say on the matter of his captain and number one not getting enough action for his new club back in November: “He hasn’t had enough playing time, and I can see why it would not be good for him. To be on the on the bench the weekend after the game he played for us in Spain is not easy. He cannot get any consistency with this few games.”
This then prompted something of a tit-for-tat, with the press obviously pouncing on this somewhat minor issue by this point, with their anti-Villas-Boas agenda, which brought the following response from the Portuguese coach, clearly tired at the constant attempts to undermine his authority: “It goes in one ear and comes out the other.”
Never one to be had not having the last word, though, Deschamps piped up just a few short days later with the following, reported by L’Equipe: “I have two ears as well. What he (Villas-Boas) says has the same effect on me. We are not talking of a player who does not play. Since he played his excellent match against Spain (France’s 1-1 draw last month), he has kept goal three times. Hugo is playing one match per week. Of course, he would like to play more, and it is not the case for the moment. He is getting on with it as best he possibly can (but) obviously he would like to play more.”
Of course, when you look at the actual words themselves all together at once, there’s nothing unusually scandalous about them, simply more of a casual disagreement spread over a few days, played out in public and ramped up to sell easy copy while bashing a manager the media clearly doesn’t like all that much. Nevertheless, considering the mild-mannered relationship that most managers share, particularly between club football and the more docile international arena, it’s certainly more barbed than usual.
Upon completing his £12m to White Hart Lane on transfer deadline day from Lyon, there was no clear need for a new goalkeeper at the club given Brad Friedel’s decent early season form, and the 42-year-old looked like he at least had one more season left in him in the top flight.
Lest we forget, the game immediately after the signing of the 25-year-old France international was the 1-1 draw at home to Norwich where Friedel was fantastic in keeping the visitors at bay with a string of superb stops; to drop him after that would have been grossly unfair and a gradual easing in of Lloris into the English game was a sensible approach to take.
Slowly but surely, after the baptism of fire that was the 5-2 hammering when put down to ten men in the north London derby against Arsenal, his displays against West Ham, Liverpool, Fulham, Everton and Swansea in the league have shown what an accomplished shot-stopper he is and while his signing was not an immediate priority in the summer, it certainly would have been at the end of this season and it looks as if they have a long-term solution to a troublesome problem in recent years, given the error-prone Gomes and Friedel’s age.
Villas-Boas finally gave the seal of approval that after starting the past five successive league games that Lloris was his preferred number one this week: “Yes at the moment you have to say so. It was difficult for Hugo at first. We recognise it was not easy for him at that time. There were expectations for him to come straight into the team.The transfer was completed just before the Norwich game in August and Brad performed extremely well in that game. After that we gave a sequence of games to Brad, using Hugo more in the Europa League, although we included him against Aston Villa to give him experience of Premier League opposition. He was very patient. I can see Brad coming back into the team because I certainly respect what he has done for us. We are extremely happy with our goalkeepers’ competition. When the decision was in favour of Brad, Hugo accepted it and now the decision has fallen in Hugo’s favour, Brad accepts it.”
We should notice that criticism of a similar goalkeeping rotation policy at Old Trafford between David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard is in short supply when compared to the over the top reaction the press hammered Villas-Boas with. If anything, the situation is far worse given that Lloris was simply given time to settle in whereas both of the goalkeepers at Manchester United have been in the country for over a season and it is clearly having a destabilising effect on them, while Lloris is now flourishing precisely because of it.
There are plenty of reasons to have a pop at Villas-Boas, but this was certainly not one of them. You always suspected, just as everyone else did, that he was simply giving Friedel a fair crack of the whip which is all you can really ask for as a player before ushering in the better option in Lloris. Tottenham now have a decent deputy and a fantastic, potentially world-class number one.
While Deschamps may have had a point that the goalkeeper needed more games, his request was completely taken out of context and misconstrued to come across as an attack, completely ignoring the settling in period required with the change in language, style and culture. The route to get to the point where Lloris is a regular in the side hasn’t always been smooth, but the end result is what matters most.
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