April 19, 2024

After starting in a record 20 World Cup games, a European Championship final and appearing in more international matches than any other man in the history of the French national team, Hugo Lloris entered the new year with little left to play for and nothing to prove.

But he did have one thing left to accomplish. Lloris, a goalkeeper, had spent his entire two-decade career in France and England; a flight from his first club to his last one would take just two hours. So at 37, in the twilight of that career, adventure has become more important than money.

“I needed something new, something different,” he said. “I had great moments in Europe. I was just looking for different opportunities, to experience a new continent, to experience a new life as well.”

He began that new life this month with LAFC, which gave him a one-year contract worth $350,000, just a fraction of the $6.62 million he was getting at Tottenham, his longtime home in the English Premier League.

However, LAFC’s offer was priceless for him and his family.

“My motivation was something else compared to the money,” he said. “If you manage well all your earnings, you can have the freedom to decide. The other aspect is the life now for my family; to continue in English, to also experience the sport culture that we have in the U.S., is huge. And to experience the California life.”

Being able to provide that for wife Marine and the couple’s three children — daughters Anna-Rose, 13, and Giuliana, 9, and son Leandro, 4 — is a big perk of being a world-class athlete. But for Lloris, the timing had to be right as well.

He said he would have lost his place on the national team had he tried to jump from Europe to MLS while still playing for France. He erased that barrier by retiring from international play less than a month after the 2022 World Cup final with Argentina.

Next he needed a team to play for and he found that almost by accident. LAFC entered the winter hoping to re-sign keeper Maxime Crepeau, but the club couldn’t fit his contract demands under the MLS salary cap. Lloris, meanwhile, had fallen out of favor at Tottenham and hadn’t played since April.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, right, battles for the ball during a World Cup semifinal match.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, right, battles for the ball during a World Cup semifinal match against Morocco in December 2022.

(Petr David Josek / Associated Press)

Sensing an opportunity, LAFC general manager John Thorrington — who 18 months earlier signed Welsh national team captain Gareth Bale and Italian captain Giorgio Chiellini for about $1.3 million in base salary and was rewarded with an MLS Cup — flew to London to talk with the former captain of the French team.

“We know who we are and what we offer for a player, which may mean different things at different stages of their career,” Thorrington said. “I say who we are and then I ask them what they’re looking for in the next step of their career. And for it to work, it needs to align and not just be good for us or just good for them. It needs to be mutually beneficial.

“And I think we have another example of that in Hugo.”

So when Tottenham agreed to let Lloris go as a free transfer, LAFC offered him a chance to play every week while giving his a family the chance to experience a new country and culture. The money never entered into it.

“I want to play. The only way I enjoy football is to be on the field and to be part of the team,” said Lloris, who played fewer games in the last year than at any point in the last decade. “So when they came to me it was really easy. If I didn’t get this opportunity, probably later in life I will regret it, you know?”

Lloris is just a couple of weeks into his MLS journey but he said he’s already found part of the change to his liking. In Europe, he said, players have little freedom, even off the pitch. Organizing a dinner with a few teammates can become impossibly complicated, requiring permission from multiple club officials.

That wasn’t the case during LAFC’s preseason trip to Indio for the Coachella Valley Invitational, where the team had Lloris pose for a picture relaxing with teammates on a golf course.

“You can be focused on your training, focused on your football, but also you have the freedom to do want you want,” he said. “I don’t play golf. [But] I think it helps the relationship between players, just to share the afternoon with the guys.”

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris makes leaping save during a World Cup quarterfinal match against England in December 2022.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris makes leaping save during a World Cup quarterfinal match against England in December 2022.

(Hassan Ammar / Associated Press)

For its part of the bargain, LAFC not only got one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in history for less money than 23 MLS keepers were paid last season, but it also got a proven leader, one who captained the French team a record 121 times.

His quiet, soft-spoken and intelligent manner — his French mother was a lawyer and his Catalan father a banker — is reminiscent of the leadership the recently retired Chiellini provided in two seasons at LAFC. And it may be even more valuable this season if Thorrington’s efforts to squeeze a new deal for Carlos Vela under the salary cap prove fruitless, leaving LAFC with a young roster that, apart from Lloris, averages about 25 years of age.

“Everything comes naturally. I don’t like to force things,” he said. “I like to listen. I like to understand how it works.

“Wearing an armband doesn’t change the way I am. It’s never been the motivation in my career and I’m not looking for it. I just came here to integrate myself. I’ve come here also to perform.”

And to experience an adventure and a lifestyle his family couldn’t get in Europe.

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