Everton legend Neville Southall believes that Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris is the best goalkeeper in the league. Southall, who won two league titles, two FA Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in a 17 year career with the Toffeemen, picked out the French stopper for special praise.
“I think he’s probably the best Spurs goalie since Pat Jennings,” said Southall at an event in Birkenhead to promote his autobiography The Binman Chronicles. “When I look at him, he plays the way I like a goalie to play. He’s always positive, he’s always looking for things, he’s always proactive, he wants things to happen and he makes things happen.”
Lloris has played for three different managers in his three seasons at White Hart Lane, but Southall believes that he has excelled in spite of the upheaval.
“He’s played in a changing club with changing players. He’s played with some absolutely shit players and some good ones and he’s managed to get on with both. If they’ve played with a high line…well, you’ve watched Tottenham. Some of them players, they don’t know what they’re doing. If there’s going to be a slip, Lloris knows. He’s brave on the pitch physically, he’s brave mentally, he comes out and he does stuff that other goalkeepers won’t do. I’d say he was the best in the league.”
Southall, FWA Footballer of the Year in 1985, also had praise for Manchester United’s David de Gea, though he wasn’t easily convinced.
“I didn’t like him at first,” said Southall, “but I think he’s improved a lot. He’s done really well. I still think he saves too much with his feet, but that’s his technique, you can get around that. What I do like about him is that his temperament is really good. You know he can play at Old Trafford. The question when you go to a club like that is not whether you’re good enough, it’s whether you can play in that environment. Schmeichel had it. Van der Sar had it. Some of the others have struggled. But he’s made really good saves at crucial times for them.”
“He’s made important saves at important times for them. And they’ve been going through a transitional period. When you’re going through a transitional period, it’s quite hard for a goalkeeper, you never know what’s in front of you. You’ve got different players, different combinations, different tactics. Are they quick, are they slow? Are they good in the air, bad in the air? Will they stay on their feet or get stuck in? He’s had to take all that in.”
“It’s still about people. It’s about knowing your people. Knowing how they’ll react if a through ball comes in. When Ferdinand was there, you knew he was quick, you knew he could get back. Some players, you’re not always sure. That’s the hard bit, but I think he’s done really well.”
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is another to gain the Southall seal of approval.
“He’s done great. You go in a team that’s doing well and that can be hard, but he’s done it. It will be interesting next season for him. The expectations will rise. The second season is always harder. People will have had a chance to see what you’re good at, what you’re bad at. But he looks to me as if he’s got what it take to be a Chelsea goalkeeper. He doesn’t seem to have any weak spots, except for punching the ball out occasionally, but a lot of the foreign boys do that. I don’t quite understand why they do it as it often leads to a second chance.”
The man he replaced, Petr Cech, would be a great signing for anyone, according to Southall.
“I think he’s the best bargain on the market now. He’s at an age now where he’s peaking. My best years were in my 30s. I was as fit as I was going to be. Nothing is going to surprise you at that age. You’ve learned so much. If you’re looking for someone who’s steady, who’s good at most aspects of goalkeeping and who’s consistent, that’s who you want. A lot of teams will be after him.”
But he was far less enamoured with Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet. Despite an improved second half of the season, Southall is entirely unconvinced by the 27 year old Belgian keeper.
“I think he is what he is. I just don’t think he’s a Liverpool goalie. He doesn’t look arrogant. He doesn’t look as if he’s in command of everyone. He doesn’t look as if he can go a full game without making a mistake. I think at times he makes great saves, but at times he can’t and he’s nowhere near it. I look at Mignolet and I think he can have all the coaching he wants, he hasn’t improved.”
“His fundamental thing, his decision making, is bad. At those clubs, you have to believe that you’re good. You’re in an atmosphere where people examine you more than anywhere else. At a small club, you can have a good game, a bad game, some average games and you’ll get by all the way to the end of the season. At a top club, it’s different. People don’t care what’s happening in your house, whatever’s happening with your family, whatever’s happening within the cub. People judge you on the 90 minutes and you’ve got to be good. And he ain’t been good enough.”