Tottenham’s Vicario on taking risks, Lloris’ advice, UCL hopes

Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou had concerns whether the Premier League club would embrace his innovative style of play, but perhaps the best demonstration of his success is the transformation in goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

The departure of Harry Kane to Bayern Munich added to Postecoglou’s intent on radically changing what had gone before and created a sense of a club at a crossroads last summer. Somewhere in the middle of this maelstrom was the need to identify a new club captain and goalkeeper after Hugo Lloris had stated his desire to leave following 11 years in north London.

Vicario, 27, has exceeded all expectations to thrive in his debut season in England, so much so that he was named Goalkeeper of the Year at last week’s London Football Awards after committing so wholeheartedly to “Angeball” that he believes it could redefine the sport.

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“We have to take some risks playing from the back because this is one of the situations we work on every day,” he tells ESPN. “We can have a lot of solutions in this. You play with a high line so you have to be ready with some sweeps outside the box. But I think this could be the new era, the new way of football. Of course, we practice every day and I really enjoy it.”

Vicario was a surprise replacement in several ways. Firstly, Spurs had been pursuing Brentford‘s David Raya but believed the initial £40 million transfer fee was too high for a player with one year left on his contract. Arsenal ended up signing Raya on a season-long loan for £3m with an option to sign him permanently for a further £27m.

Also, Vicario had been playing top-level football for only a couple of years after making his Serie A debut in April 2021 for Cagliari before moving to Empoli three months later where he played a further 31 league games. Empoli finished 14th in Serie A as Vicario kept only seven clean sheets, but Postecoglou was sufficiently convinced to make him his second signing for £17m, after Spurs turned Dejan Kulusevski‘s loan from Juventus into a permanent deal.

Vicario was considered calm and intelligent with the ball at his feet, but Empoli’s defensive style rarely allowed him to showcase his passing range. So what is perhaps more surprising is the level of composure the Italian has shown despite only limited experience; he has not made a single error leading to a goal this season and only two mistakes leading to a shots, and has not dropped a single cross.

Perhaps most impressively, his “goals prevented” score — expected goals from shots on target measured against actual goals conceded — is +6.15, the biggest differential in the Premier League. Only seven goalkeepers have a higher figure from that metric in Europe’s top five leagues. He has enjoyed some spectacular individual moments, being nominated for all but one Premier League ‘Save of the Month’ award this season.

“It is a completely different style of football from what I had to do in my past,” Vicario says. “But I think it just becomes about hard work and trying to work as a team because the keeper I know is the only player that can catch the ball with his hands but you have to work a lot with the defence line, with the back four.”

Lloris was a help rather than a hindrance before moving to LAFC in December 2023. The France captain announced his intention to leave Spurs last June after making his 447th and final appearance for the club but he failed to agree a summer move despite interest from Lazio, Saudi Arabia and Nice, where he began his career. Postecoglou allowed Lloris to continue training with the first-team squad even though he would not be considered for selection in the event of anything other than an extreme injury crisis involving Vicario and his No. 2, Fraser Forster. The situation could have been tense but Vicario insisted it was anything but.

“We trained every day and he was one of my teammates so any advice, anything I could to try and take from him, I tried to do,” Vicario says. “He was very kind with me, trying to speak with me and help settle me as fast as I can. He did it and I’m very grateful to him.”

But did he feel any pressure in replacing such an iconic figure as Lloris? “Pressure is a word you find everywhere in football,” he replies. “It is not about overthinking who was before you. I have a huge respect for what Hugo did and what he did with me also when we trained in these last few months. He was a massive keeper, a massive human being in the way he behaves with me.

“So big respect for what he achieved in his career, he is a World Cup winner, a captain. So I think pressure is everywhere in football so you don’t have to overthink and just concentrate on what you have to do day by day,” Vicario adds.

Vicario has previously spoken about the influence of Italian goalkeeping legends Gianluigi Buffon and Dino Zoff, both of whom hail from the same region of Udine where he was born. But to further aid his adaptation, Vicario studied goalkeepers currently playing in England and singled out two individuals.

“In the Premier League there are a lot of top goalkeepers, I like to watch every goalkeeper in the way he behaves, the way he saves, his style of goalkeeping,” he says. “[Aston Villa‘s] Emi Martínez and [Liverpool‘s] Alisson are for me the two top keepers in the league so if I have to say someone, I say these two guys because they are doing unbelievable, they play with risk, take risks playing from the back, they are very brave to go out and to clear situations so of course I look to other keepers.”

Tottenham are in a battle with Martínez’s Villa to secure Champions League football next season. It is possible that five English teams could qualify depending on complicated calculations relating to UEFA coefficients, which change based on how teams from various countries perform in Europe this season. But the working assumption is the traditional four spots are available and fourth-placed Villa hold a five-point lead over Tottenham, who have a game in hand. The teams face each other in a crucial clash at Villa Park on Sunday.

“It is important for everyone, trying to go in the Champions League,” says Vicario, who has never played in Europe’s premier competition. “Of course it is one of our goals to try to achieve. We know it is hard because we have to face sides every week in the Premier League and it is tough against everyone.

“I don’t think we have to overthink about the end, just focusing on trying to do our best game by game. Our aim at the moment is to try to win the next game, if you work to win the next game you can maybe think at the end of the season about where you are.

“Of course, it is one of the best competitions in the world. I watch when I stay home, it is one of the best football shows in the world.”

Regardless of what happens, however, Vicario says he believes the future at Spurs is bright: “We are a very young group, it is the first season we are playing altogether with the new manager so we just have to remain calm and try to focus and work hard every day because I think we can be something special in the next seasons.”