By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
Olympique Lyonnais are set to suffer another major blow to their credibility as one of France's outstanding forces as goalkeeper Hugo Lloris prepares to leave the club this summer, with a number of suitors harbouring hopes of securing his signature.
The 25-year-old has been linked with Arsenal, but it would appear Tottenham are in pole position to sign the talented goalkeeper, who has finally decided that it is time to move on from Ligue 1 after seven years in the division.
"Lloris told me that he would like to leave if he has an opportunity to play for one of the five biggest European sides," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas recently lamented to the club's official website, having seen off previous interest from the likes of Manchester United last summer.
Spurs do not fall into the 'top five' echelon, but they are sufficiently strong to tempt the goalkeeper away from faltering Lyon for his first spell abroad, although they have yet to meet his current club's asking price of €20 million.
Lloris' big move away should end a difficult period in his career. Over the last 12 months, the goalkeeper has turned out for club and country a total of 62 times, but found himself rather unjustly criticised in both roles.
Lyon are not the force they once were in domestic football. Aulas is in the midst of a long-term restructuring of the club, attempting to shift the focus away from big-money signings and back to youth due to a worsening financial position. Long gone are the glory days of Florent Malouda, Sonny Anderson and Juninho.
OL might have been ranked third behind Sochaux and Rennes for the strength of their academy recently, yet the budget cuts have inevitably made for a weaker first XI.
LLORIS' LYON YEARS | LIGUE 1 PERFORMANCE
*Source: Ligue de Football Professionnel
Lloris has been the main victim, left hopelessly over-exposed by a fragile defence over the course of the previous campaign. In league football, he was beaten 51 times as Les Gones finished fourth, a tally unheard of since the Rhone club conceded on 77 occasions as they were relegated from the top flight in 1982-83.
An even more damning statistic is that every other regular Ligue 1 goalkeeper last season, including those of the relegated sides, kept more clean sheets than the France No.1.
Given this backdrop, he admitted it was a "great vote of confidence" from erstwhile national team coach Laurent Blanc that he was given the captaincy for Euro 2012. It was a controversial move in any case. Not only is goalkeeper Lloris far removed from the thick of the action, he is considered to be a rather introverted character.
Spontaneous bursts of passion have been shown from the custodian in the past, most notably when his OL side incredibly lost a 2-0 lead against Nice in second-half stoppage time. The goalkeeper was caught on camera as he turned the air blue, attacking Aly Cissokho's lack of passion in particular.
"You did not respect this shirt. We were scared s***less, and we're fed up with it," he exploded.
Lloris could not unite France this summer, though, and fingers were pointed at him for showing a lack of leadership. Les Bleus disintegrated, and a lack of respect for their on-field general was evident, with Jeremy Menez said to have told the shot-stopper "Go and f*** yourself," during the 2-0 quarter-final defeat against Spain.
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Hailing from a privileged background, he was an outstanding young tennis player, but elected to focus on football, breaking into the senior side of his hometown club, Nice, for the first time as a 19-year-old. Having worked his way through the grades at international level, much was expected of the youngster, and he would shine despite a heavy burden of expectation.
In the summer of 2008, he was ready for his first big move. AC Milan were considered to be favourites for his signature, while Tottenham already had an interest, but it was Lyon who successfully moved to sign the prodigy, investing €8.5m in the player.
It has been the failure to excel of many of OL's big-money moves around this time that has triggered their present-day cut backs. While the likes of Jean Makoun and John Mensah, who cost over €20m combined, flopped spectacularly, Lloris proved more than a sound acquisition.
Blessed with great reflexes and agility, the goalkeeper grew in confidence quickly at Stade Gerland. He may be a typically quiet character away from the field, but on it he is competitive and self-assured, and this was a vital asset to succeeding so quickly with France's dominant force at the time.
A lack of handling ability from crosses has been cited in the past as a weakness, but this is a fallacy. Lloris is flawed coming for centres, but this is due to his decision making rather than his catching. At times he can gamble too much, attempting to gather crosses that are not his to be taken, yet behind imposing centre-backs this is not nearly such an issue.
In his career plan, a switch to Tottenham probably was not on his agenda at the age of 25, but it is testament to the fresh draw of Spurs (as well as the fall of Lyon) that they can now move for such a talent. Few goalkeepers in Europe have the spectacular abilities of Lloris, who still has much time to move to one of the continent's most storied clubs. He would prove a wise long-term investment for the London side.
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