Debuting professionally at 16 has lately become a trend among clubs at the international club, where, for certain circumstances, be it injuries or rotations, coaches give opportunities to boys from the academy to see the play, to try them out, and to keep them in the back of their minds for a first-team future.
This past season, many midfielders, forwards, and even center backs, less than 17 years old, debuted professionally, and one even won the starting spot over a more experienced player.
Still, if footballers debuting at 17 in the first division is now a regular occurrence, goalkeepers doing so is as rare as hen’s teeth. From what I can remember, only Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alban Lafont did it, both born in 1999, and both debuting a month apart, in October and November 25, respectively.
Much has been written about Gianluigi Donnarumma in the past few months, with journalists calling him Gianluigi Buffon’s heir for the Azzurri, which I do not doubt. But I feel that one that has not gained the attention he deserved is Alban Lafont, Toulouse’s young goalkeeper.
At 18, Lafont has already played more than 60 games in all competitions, winning the starting spot against much older competitors while gaining a name for himself in the Pink City. His qualities have made him a raw diamond in Ligue 1, along with his teammate Issa Diop, and he has been called Hugo Lloris’ natural successor between the French goalposts.
He moved up the youth levels of Toulouse until the 2015/16 season, where he was called up by his manager to start at 16, and he did not let his coach down. From then on until now, he has never stopped being a sturdy protector for his mid-table club.
And yes, it is true that Alban Lafont isn’t a household name who can light up a stadium, but casual fans should take note; it is very hard to find such a young goalkeeper who can transmit such freshness and security game after game.
I had hoped that the world would get to know the Alban Lafont that has wowed Toulouse’s fanbase, in the U-20 World Cup, but it was not so. France did not advance far in the tournament, but I am confident that sooner or later, we will talk about Lafont how we talk about Donnarumma, and this will probably occur when Lafont leaves for a bigger club.
His main strengths are his reflexes, his wingspan, his jump, and ability on the ball. His 1.93 meters help him whenever he recovers or clears dangerous shots in the corner or in free kicks, making him a strong and secure goalkeeper.
His stretch can cover the goal with no problem, allowing him to stop shots with ease. His game against PSG at the start of the season shows all that I mentioned; despite his youth, I did not fear when he had to go against Edinson Cavani. Great performances such as this have shaped his reputation, despite not being seen often by the general public.
Lafont is about to start his third straight professional season, and I hope that this will be the one that draws him far away from Toulouse, in search of new, lofty goals. Staying in France isn’t enough; he must leave for more, above all, he has already reached his limit in Ligue 1.
With his cat-like reflexes, his 2 meter-long stretch and the tranquility that he transmits to his fans, Alban Lafont is a goalkeeper we must pay attention to; he can be a crucial part for France’s future.
If all goes well, if he is patient, if he knows hot to compete, and if he can face the critics and not get side-tracked with off-the-field issues, soon, Lafont will become France’s best goalkeeper and a pillar of the national team. His potential is enormous, but with this, he must polish off his rough spots. Let’s hope that, as the years pass, we will enjoy his beautiful evolution.
By: Antonio González/@AGA26A. Translated by Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio.