Hugo Lloris on Tottenham, Pochettino, FA Cup, Arsenal, Chelsea and title race
LONDON -- Harry Kane and Dele Alli are Tottenham's poster boys and top-scorers but there is perhaps, no-one more important to the club's hopes of turning potential into trophies than its captain Hugo Lloris.
At 30, Lloris, who also captains France, is the elder statesman in a young Tottenham squad and he is typically a measured voice, calming his teammates after a big win or rebuking them when standards slip.
Ahead of a defining week for Tottenham, which starts with Saturday's FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea, and ends with the North London derby, ESPN FC spoke to Lloris at the club's training base during an event with Kumho Tyres, Spurs' official tyre partner, about the title race, the FA Cup, his manager Mauricio Pochettino and his style of leadership.
Q: Can Saturday's FA Cup semifinal have a psychological effect on the title race?
A: It'll be a big battle psychologically -- the mental will be more important [than the physical]. But we don't think about the league, we just focus on this competition. We want to go through. We know Chelsea is a great team and it'll be a big fight on the pitch but we'll be ready for that.
Q: But the winner will gain a huge amount of confidence for the run-in, at least?
A: Yes, probably but in football there is no truth. At the moment, we're just focussed on Saturday. We expect a tough game and we worked hard all season to ready to enjoy this kind of game. A semifinal at Wembley is an exciting moment for a young team. Then we'll think about the league again.
Q: Is this a good time for Tottenham to be playing Chelsea?
A: We have a lot of respect for Chelsea. They've been great all season, they have a lot of great players who are ready to face the best teams in England or in Europe at any moment. They're competitors. We're not focussed on the players we are going to face -- we're just focussed on ourselves.
Q: Jamie Carragher is among those to say that Tottenham are too good not to win a trophy this season. Is that true?
A: You can play the best football all season and in the end you won't be rewarded. The most important thing is to win games. There's no unique way to play football. For us, the most important thing is belief -- to believe in our manager, in our staff, in ourselves. We'll try to give the possibility to dream to our fans and make them proud of us.
Q: Chelsea still have a four point advantage but Tottenham have momentum and confidence. How importance can those factors be in the title run-in?
A: We just want to continue enjoying our football. You can see every week that we enjoy playing together. We all have the same goal -- to work for the team as hard as possible. We're in a good moment now -- we need to enjoy that, and carry on in the same way and win every game until the end of the season. It'll be difficult. We have the right mentality. We question ourselves a lot, we always try to improve and we try to grow up together as a team.
Q: What could winning a trophy do for this team?
A: A winning mentality is already in this team -- we just need some chances and opportunities, and we have a few before the end of the season. When you have a chance, you have to take it. It's true that at some other clubs, in England, France, Spain, Italy or Germany, they are used to winning a lot of trophies. It was the case 50 years ago, it was the case 20 years ago and it will be the case in a few years. Because they are big institutions and all the players respect those institutions. That's the way to follow, but you cannot arrive one day and say: 'I want to change everything,' and then win. You need to take time, build up something strong step-by-step, and you need to live through experiences like last season. Even like this season -- in the Champions League it was a failure but we need to go through this kind of moment to improve. It's a process.
Q: After your last league defeat at Liverpool on Feb. 11, you said it didn't look like Tottenham were fighting for the title. What has changed since then?
A: We're still a young team. The one good thing in my experience -- and this is only my feeling -- is that we're capable of learning very quickly from defeats, from up and down periods. That's so important. When you have ambition, it's important to be ready to question yourself after a defeat like Liverpool and, as a team, to have a good response on the pitch. That's what we did. There's still a long way until the end of the season and in our mind we need to keep the right mentality until the end. That's not only in games, it's every day in training. It's an exciting time for us -- we just need to enjoy the football we play and not put too much pressure on it. If we all push to the limit, let's see what happens.
Q: Do the players understand the importance of finishing above Arsenal this year, particularly given what happened last season?
A: I'm not saying it's something important, but last season, when we finished third, it was a very bad feeling. That's not especially because it was Arsenal -- it's because of the way we finished the season. That's something we don't want to re-live. I know there's a lot of rivalry between the clubs but as a Tottenham player we don't think about them. We think about ourselves, our ambitions, our goals. The easiest way to lose everything is to start to think about another team. That's not the case. The priority is to be focussed on ourselves.
Q: Did you start this season with any sense of injustice from last year, when the country was united behind Leicester?
A: No. We just wanted to carry on in the same way. There's a very exciting project at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. You can see from the outside that step-by-step we are creating something strong. We have the basics and now it's just about details if we are to reach the level that we want. And it's up to us. The gaffer and his staff put us in the best condition every day. We feel that everyone, individually, is improving as a man and as a professional. That's important. The only thing that can keep pushing us is the ambition to win on the pitch and to enjoy the football that we play. We have one way to play and whenever we have a bad moment, it's easy to come back to the basics because we know exactly what we have to do. That's thanks to the gaffer and his staff.
Q: You said recently that your future is "tied" to Pochettino's. What did you mean by that?
A: It's very clear. It just means I have a lot of respect for the man, a lot of respect for the manager. We have a great connection and when you get something strong like that, it's never easy to find it again in your life or in your career. It's very simple. And then, in football, everything is impossible. The only thing that I know is that I enjoy my time at Tottenham and especially under Mauricio. I believe that with him the club can reach the level we all want.
Q: Is he the biggest reason you decided to sign a new contract and stay here?
A: Yes. That's the truth and I cannot hide that. And, of course, I can feel that the club -- the chairman and the board and all the people working every day at the club -- are pushing in the same way. We all want to make this club bigger, and want this club to be a success. But in football it takes time and you have to go step-by-step. It's true, also, that around me I feel some players and very motivated and involved towards the club and the team. We share the same values as men and as footballers. I really enjoy my time with Tottenham. It's an interesting time. We nearly at the end of the season and we're involved in two competitions. We want to go as far as possible.
Q: As a softly spoken goalkeeper, you're not a traditional captain. What is your leadership style?
A: The time when the captain was shouting is over. It's always an evolution in football -- the players, the mentality, the captains, the managers. It's important to question yourself in football if you want to keep a high level. It's very simple. I try to be natural with my teammates and my manager. I try to be loyal, and a good example on the pitch and off the pitch. I'm here to help my teammates, not to fight against them. It's very easy. When I have to say something, I say it -- that's not a problem. I'm lucky because in the changing room, there's a lot of great guys. I feel that we share the same values and we all want to go the same way. My job is that when I feel someone going away, to take him and bring him back to the right way. It's easy. Well, it's not easy every day!
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.