Le50 2016: Alban Lafont – Toulouse FC
Toulouse started this season with a good win, as they came from behind to beat European qualification hopefuls Saint-Etienne. There was certainly a lot of optimism around the club but that quickly evaporated as they lost seven and drew six of their next 13 games. Only winless Troyes kept them off the bottom and manager Dominique Arribage had to act.
His solution? To give Alban Lafont, a 16-year old goalkeeper, his first Ligue 1 appearance, thereby making him the youngest keeper to ever appear in the French to flight. The opponents were in-form Nice, who boasted Hatem Ben Arfa and were fourth in the league at the time.
It was very much the last roll of the dice for Arribage and incredibly it worked. Lafont kept a clean sheet in not just his first Ligue 1 game but his second as well. Admittedly his second was against the aforementioned Troyes but to keep two clean sheets in two games as a 16-year-old was simply remarkable.
Speaking about his decision Arribage said that he wanted to shake his team out of the slump they were in; it’s just a shame that it wasn’t enough to save him from getting sacked.
“It was a bold move but it gave me the opportunity to wake up a squad that needed waking up. He had struggled in a friendly against Eibar, but that made him realise what was required to play at the highest level.”
Nevertheless Lafont has featured in every league game since and although he’s only kept four more clean sheets, one can’t blame him for everything that has gone wrong. Toulouse are a club full of problems and right now it feels like they need relegation to allow them to rebuild and address what has gone wrong.
Despite everything that Lafont has achieved this season there are still those who remain unconvinced, and at times he faces the same criticism as AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, in the sense that they aren’t necessarily doing anything spectacular with the saves they’re making. Maybe these people don’t quite realise that these are kids who should still be in school; the fact that they’re even in the starting XI is achievement enough.
Ultimately relegation could actually be a good thing for Lafont. He’s still just 17 so it’s unlikely that he’s going to move just yet and he should get a full season of football. Breaking into a first team at this age is impressive in any position, but as a goalkeeper it’s even better. Keepers typically tend to peak later but Lafont is already ahead of the curve, which will expose him to far more game time than most of his peers.
What about the youngster himself? He’s just taking it game by game, the perfect mentality for one in such a unique position:
“I am naturally calm and don’t get carried away easily. [Making my debut so young] is not an end in itself. I need to keep working, have fun and train well.”