Le50 2017 – Alban Lafont
Goalkeeper Alban Lafont’s arrival on the Ligue 1 scene as a 16-year-old initially smacked of a desperate roll of the dice by (then) Toulouse manager Dominique Arribagé as he sought to allay the slide that eventually did for his job, and very nearly for TFC’s top-flight status. However, Lafont immediately made the No. 1 spot his own and this has continued under Pascal Dupraz, this season playing 36 league games and keeping 10 clean sheets.
The two ‘missing’ games in Lafont’s record this season were both imposed – first a card-accumulation suspension, then the last game of the season, off in South Korea on international duty for the U20 World Cup. Born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Lafont understandably attracted the attention of the Burkinabe selection, but having now played at four different age-levels for France, his focus seems bleu. Given what he has achieved so far, you can understand him backing himself.
After consecutive 17th-place finishes, a relatively comfy 13th place will have come as a relief to fans, and Lafont and the defence played a large part in that. Their 41 goals conceded was, joint with OM, only bettered by the top three. In a season where some very big hammerings were handed around, Toulouse were not immune, conceding four to OL, and three to Nice, Saint-Etienne and Monaco, but otherwise kept things organised to compensate for an attack only ‘worsted’ by Rennes, Caen, and the bottom two, with 37.
Lafont is not yet the finished article, and perhaps does not shine in a particular area, rather he does most things reliably. He comes off his line frequently, which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t, but the occasional display of over-exuberance will temper with experience; the speed of his reflexes and ability to get down to low balls are impressive. In the 2016/17 season he kept two clean sheets against PSG, for example, including the 0-0 draw at the Parc des Princes where the home side had over 70% possession, Lafont frustrating birthday boy Edinson Cavani on several occasions. Toulouse were the only side to twice stop PSG scoring in the league in 2016/17; and only two other teams (OM and Montpellier) managed to do it once.
Toulouse’s age profile means that Lafont has not had to impose his authority on players significantly older than him (Kelvin Amian and Issa Diop are only a year or two older, the rest mid-20s). However, to be organising a backline in a defensively-minded team when still of school-age takes a special strength of character.
This maturity is maybe a fortunate result of his experience, leaving the family home very young, about which he speaks with characteristic openness and balance: “it’s a choice. You have to be prepared for that. It’s hard at first, but then you adapt…you’re more autonomous, you grow up quicker.” Having moved to France aged nine with his father, only after becoming the first-choice keeper did he move out of the TFC training centre to an apartment with his brother Florian – who did the driving while Alban was too young to have a licence.
Last season it looked like Toulouse were headed for the drop, which ironically looked a positive for their young goalkeeper, as it implied another season of starts, and growing experience. But that set the bar too low for Lafont; the great escape engineered by Dupraz did not result in a new / other / older goalkeeper coming in. The manager stuck with his young star, trusting him to continue his good form and improve, and has been paid back well.