National Writer: Charles Boehm

Hugo Lloris welcomes new journey with LAFC: "I come here to compete"


The banter culture in a typical soccer locker room is such that even prospering for more than a decade at the sport’s very highest levels – winning the most prized, lusted-after trophy on the planet, in fact – cannot insulate you from your teammates’ teasing.

It’s actually sometimes the opposite. And so it has gone for Hugo Lloris during his first weeks as an LAFC player in the leadup to the Black & Gold’s 2024 season opener vs. Western Conference rivals the Seattle Sounders at BMO Stadium on Saturday afternoon (4:45 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FOX).

“We make a lot of little jokes here and there about being a World Cup winner, being a world-class player,” Aaron Long explained to reporters of his new defensive colleague on Thursday. “Just little jabs at him because he's gone so far and he's seen all there is to see.

“He's a fantastic guy. He's easygoing, you can make jokes with him. But when it's time to work, he's ready.”

New adventure

A 2018 world champion with France and a longtime club captain and icon at Tottenham Hotspur, Lloris was a match-winner in Europe’s top competitions for well over a decade before making his head-turning move to Los Angeles this winter. He’s logged more than 100 career UEFA Champions League and Europa League appearances, the first of which he made while some of his new teammates were still in kindergarten.

After so long under the footballing world’s brightest spotlights, carrying a heavy burden of responsibility for both club and country, Lloris relished the opportunity to center his family and his own sense of adventure as he made his next move.

“To be transparent, after 19 years as a professional footballer in Europe, I just wanted something new, something fresh,” the Frenchman told in a recent one-on-one conversation.

“It was always in my mind, the day I become a bit more free, because I don't have any more the national team because I retired [from Les Bleus] one year ago, so I had the freedom. I wanted to travel and to discover a new culture, a new lifestyle, a new continent, and football sometimes can provide you that type of experience.”

After he decided to leave Spurs last year amid a generational shift at the club, he fielded offers from all over the globe, some on wages even more lucrative than the seven-figure salary he was earning in North London. Yet in the end, the combined allure of life in sunny Southern California and the chance to fight for hardware in an emerging league became irresistible, even on a modest salary that’s reportedly somewhere around 1/18th of what he was making at THFC.

Lloris, incredibly, will be one of the lower-compensated starting-caliber goalkeepers in MLS this year. This move is most definitely not about the money.

“I'm so glad right now to be in California, to be in Los Angeles and to be part of LAFC,” he said, noting he’d paid attention to his former Spurs teammate Gareth Bale’s stint with the Angelenos. “Because I can keep playing a good level of football and keep enjoying my passion and also enjoying the competition. At the same time, I can share a new life experience with my family. So it’s really great for us.

“There were options on the table, different continents, different leagues, but it was also a family decision. I arrive at one point in my career, I couldn’t be selfish, I have to share this. And when LAFC came to me, it became my priority.”

Some call it ‘the LA discount’ – the built-in appeal of experiencing firsthand the California Dream, a concept that actually predates the American version. It’s a potent recruiting advantage enjoyed by LAFC and the LA Galaxy, though it often comes at the cost of increased scrutiny and expectation.

“It's a wonderful place to live, and yes, of course it’s an attraction,” said LAFC head coach Steven Cherundolo. “I tell every new player the same thing: You will enjoy playing here, and I can give that to every player. They will enjoy their time here.

"But we ask of them, this is not a vacation. We will be competitive and the level is high in training. And it's my job to keep this as high as possible. But players will enjoy the sport of football again here in LA.”

Cool under pressure

High expectations shouldn’t be much of a problem in Lloris’ case, considering the microscope always hovering overhead at an ambitious, passionately-supported Premier League heavyweight like Tottenham, let alone the crushing pressure of life on the French national team.

Performing in such pressure-cooker environments is magnified that much further for ‘keepers. Lloris displayed admirable poise, resilience and longevity even after weathering a few of the high-profile mistakes that inevitably happen when you’re as good for as long as he’s been.

“That's part of a football career. Every player, they all have their ups and downs. The thing is, you always try to be as consistent as possible,” he noted. “You are aided by the competition and playing for Spurs for 11 years. It means that I decided to be loyal towards the club. I gave most of my career time to the club.

“I think my biggest pride is just being part of the club during the most important evolution. When you compare the club when I signed for it and when I left, it's a totally different club. With work, with fans, we upgraded and we made it bigger. When you see today, it's a very great place to be … right now with [first-year manager Ange] Postecoglou, there is a proper direction that everybody and every fan enjoys. There is a real DNA, there is a real football approach and I think it's a very interesting time for Spurs.”

"I come here to compete"

The dawn of the Postecoglou era also signaled the twilight of his own, however. Last summer Lloris felt those winds of change and began considering his next phase, even if he is quick to make clear that he’s got plenty of soccer left in his 37-year-old body.

All this did give him and his family the time and mental outlook to prepare for new pastures. His wife Marine and their three young children Anna-Rose, Giuliana and Léandro only just arrived Stateside, but logistical priorities like home (they decided on Encino, in the San Fernando Valley) and schooling have already been arranged.

“Everything is ready. We can start our experience and our new chapter, schools already as well. So we try to organize ourselves in the best way,” said Lloris. “On my side, I’m still developing the fitness, still getting to know the people, the players, the manager’s demands, but I feel good. I feel good so far. I'm excited like I used to be before a new season. I just want to be ready to compete. Because the best way to enjoy football is to win football matches.”

MLS’s rising profile abroad is reflected in the consistent, vocal interest expressed by the likes of his France teammate Antoine Griezmann, though Lloris says his own exposure to North American life and sporting culture has up to now been more limited.

“It's quite funny. I was here just for football, for preseason with Tottenham, or with Lyon, we played the French community shield in New York a long time ago [in 2012],” he said. “But obviously it's USA, it's a major country in the world. And I think it seems great to come here and even if I had different options in the MLS, when the LAFC option appeared, it was clearly a priority because of the life experience but also because the club is very competitive and the ambition of the club to keep the standard. So there is everything for my enjoyment here.

“I think that there is a real ambition to go one step further. When you look at the signature of Leo Messi, one reason behind that is probably in the future, they want to make the MLS an important place for football. But let's be honest, you know, after spending 11-and-a-half years in the Premier League, you cannot compare it. But it's still competitive. And I come here, I don't really underestimate teams, players. I come here to compete and want to enjoy by winning games.”

Like his predecessor Giorgio Chiellini, part of Lloris’ appeal is his ability to guide and influence younger colleagues, a role he’s already well accustomed to from his previous teams. He himself was a teenage phenom, making his first-team debut for his hometown side OGC Nice at just 18, so he’s walked a path very similar to the one now in front of LAFC’s rising talents.

“In your career, I think it's important to be open-minded, and to listen. Some people, they really want to help you,” said Lloris. “But there is only one way, you know? It is to work hard. To work hard, to push, to go for it and also to be part of a team. Because at the end of the day football is a collective sport and you need a team around you. When a team wins, when it is successful, it's all about the full numbers of the team, it’s not only about one or two players. So this is also the beauty of the football.

“At the moment I just want to enjoy the football, because I know that I'm close to the end,” he added. “I don't really know what will be the [next] opportunities in football, outside the football. The main thing is to believe in your conviction, to believe in your values and being yourself.”