Tottenham signing Pau Lopez: Five things you need to know about keeper
In a move that may have passed under the radar on a hectic Deadline Day, Tottenham Hotspur signed Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez on a season-long loan.
Brought in to compete with Michel Vorm to be understudy to Hugo Lloris, Lopez is much more than a last-minute squad filler.
ESPN FC gives you a rundown of everything you need to know about Lopez.
1. Lopez grew up very fast
As a kid, Lopez didn't always want to play between the posts. His father Ignasi -- a police officer nowadays -- used to be an amateur goalkeeper and tried to encourage his son to follow in his footsteps, but Pau became bored and tried his luck as a striker.
Upon learning that he had no talent whatsoever as an outfield player, Lopez abandoned football for a while and joined a basketball team, only for his father to intervene once again.
Eventually, Espanyol noticed him playing for Girona youth team, and Pau moved to their academy at the age of 12. For six years, he traveled 200km in each direction from his home in the town of Olot to Barcelona and back, every single day. He wasn't the tallest of children, considered rather short for a keeper, until suddenly growing by 12 centimeters in just three months. Standing at 6-foot-2 now, Lopez is a very commanding figure in the penalty area.
His career had also grown suddenly and extremely quickly. During the 2014-15 season, Espanyol coach Sergio Gonzalez decided to promote the youngster to the first team and give him an opportunity in Espanyo's Copa del Rey fixtures. The gamble proved to be highly successful, as the team reached the semifinals, with Pau only conceding six goals in eight matches.
With star keeper Kiko Casilla off to Real Madrid in the summer of 2015, Sergio didn't hesitate to make Pau his undisputed No. 1 last season. Espanyol conceded 74 goals in 2015-16, the worst record in La Liga, and Pau was rather inconsistent, but it was easy to see his qualities -- he has good reflexes on the line and knows to deal with crosses and high balls as well.
When Sergio was fired in January, his replacement Constantin Galca didn't have confidence in Pau and asked to bring Giedrius Arlauskis, with whom he worked at Steaua Bucharest, on loan from Watford. However, the Lithuanian was soon injured, and Lopez remained the first choice keeper for the whole season, taking part in 36 matches.
2. He has a strong mentality
Pau had the privilege to study from one of the greatest African goalkeepers in history, Thomas N'Kono. An Espanyol legend as a player, N'Kono is now the goalkeeping coach at the club, and he holds Lopez in very high esteem.
"For many people, the choice of Pau could be a surprise, but not for us," the Cameroonian said last summer, and he has always been a great mentor for his young protege.
N'Kono taught Pau to be brave, because mistakes are bound to happen to all the keepers. Lopez didn't even need such an advice -- he is very strong mentally and doesn't lose concentration after making an error.
As former youth coach Manolo Marquez told El Pais: "Pau once made a horrendous blunder, and it usually takes goalkeepers a few minutes to recover, but he just continued as usual."
"He is extraordinary. He recovers from mistakes with astonishing easiness", another youth coach, Dani Poyatos, added.
For Lopez, football is a game, first and foremost. He once said that he could play without getting paid, just because he loves doing it.
Football is not the only interest in his life, either. Pau studied psychology for a while, and then proceeded to take courses in physical education.
3. He once clashed with Lionel Messi
The most controversial incident involving Pau occurred in January 2016, when he apparently tried to stamp on Leo Messi during a very bad-tempered Copa del Rey clash against Barcelona.
The referee missed the foul, but TV pictures showed Lopez putting his boot on the Argentine's ankle after the duo came together in the penalty box. In addition, Pau was involved in several ugly vocal arguments with Luis Suarez, clearly not afraid of the big stars he was facing.
Following the scandal, the keeper apologized and remarked: "There has been a lot of noise about everything. I want to clear up that I never go onto the pitch to harm a fellow professional.
"It was just one more action in the game. They also faced up to me -- these are things that happen in a game."
N'Kono, the wise teacher as always, said that his understudy misbehaved and got carried away in the heat of the moment.
"He was wrong and made a mistake and I have spoken to him about it privately," N'Kono said. "He is in the phase of learning, and people have to understand that."
4. Lopez is passionate about local rivalries
Pau had good reason to target Barcelona players in the derby. He dislikes Espanyol's big city rivals wholeheartedly, and he doesn't try to hide it.
When asked about his his preferences in the title race last season, the keeper replied: "I don't care, as long as Barcelona don't win the title. It could be any team from Madrid for me."
His passion was quite popular with Espanyol fans. Now that he is at Tottenham, expect Pau to develop an allergy to Arsenal and everything associated with the Gunners. He most certainly knows what local pride is about.
5. Pochettino and Toni have confidence in him
New Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores, appointed in the summer, made it clear that he wanted a more experienced goalkeeper between the posts, and the club signed Roberto from Olympiakos. Pau's demotion made it easier for Tottenham to negotiate the deal that was on cards throughout the summer.
Mauricio Pochettino knows Lopez well, since the days the keeper was a kid in the academy, as the Argentine was at the helm at Espanyol between 2009 and 2012.
Even more significantly, his assistant and goalkeeping coach Toni Jimenez also worked at Espanyol at the time. Toni, a long serving former Espanyol keeper himself, has high confidence in Pau, and his professional opinion of the keeper was extremely important to getting the deal done.
The duo wanted to bring Lopez to White Hart Lane long before Hugo Lloris was injured on the opening day of the new season. The new circumstances only made the deal more urgent, and now Pau will be in with a shout in the battle with Michel Vorm.
The Catalan is certainly not a complete keeper yet. His is left-handed, and has to learn to use his right hand better. Ball distribution with his feet is a major problem for Pau, and he would never be able to play for Pep Guardiola.
Naturally, he is very inexperienced as well. Yet his qualities are obvious, and he has the potential to become a very good goalkeeper. He must prove that the step forward hasn't been too steep.
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin