At Euro 2016, France fell just short of securing the tournament win on their home turf, losing to an Eder goal in the final, which made Portugal the champions. But, given the age and quality of the squad, you can bet that Euro 2016 was a mere taster of what’s to come from the French.
Now, France have a chance to establish a dynasty, one greater than that of the late 90s to early millennium France team – who won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euros. It could also be one that replicates or even bests the recent domination of Spain, who won the 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euros.
The incredible talent and youth in the current set up as well as those coming through give France a shot at long and sustained success in the upcoming tournaments, but one changeover will be particularly key. Behind almost all great teams is a great goalie, which France have in Hugo Lloris. But to sustain a dynasty, they’ll need a top talent to takeover: cue Alban Lafont.
The French outlook
With incredible world class talents by the likes of N’Golo Kante, Antonie Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Alexandre Lacazette, Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, and many others flying the French flag, there’s no doubting that France have one of, if not the, best teams in the world right now. The best bit about it for the French is that even their first-team stars have youth on their side, let alone the talents making their way through the system or trying to break in.
Looking ahead to the upcoming tournaments, France have got to be the favourites coming into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, likely with Germany and Argentina also mixed in as the top picks by the bookies. In their last major tournament, the young France team showed that they could operate well together and win when needed. The Portuguese played rough and got the better of the French, but they will have learned from their mistakes and will now be much stronger, ready to take on the world.
After the World Cup, it’s onto the inter-country Euro 2020 and, if the young players in and out of the squad continue to develop as expected, France will once again be a favourite, likely boasting a similar core to their World Cup campaign. Then it’s onto the infamous 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The run up to the Qatar-hosted competition is where France will likely see the most change, which they’ll need to time to perfection to keep a potential string of successful tournaments running. The biggest change, by this point, could very well be in goal.
Hugo Lloris will be approaching 35-years-old, turning just after the winter World Cup has concluded. By no means will Lloris be too old to play as many other great goalies have continued to be successful well into their 30s, but he may very well be muscled down the pecking order by another goalie.
The rise of Alban Lafont
In his first full season as the team’s first-choice goalkeeper, Alban Lafont held ten clean sheets in 36 Ligue 1 games for FC Toulouse, only conceding 41. He managed to shut out league tyrants Paris Saint-Germain twice and held league champions AS Monaco to one goal in a home win.
One more thing, Alban Lafont is only 18.
The Burkina Faso-born French goalie was thrown into the starting line-up in the 2015/16 season at the record-breaking age of 16 years and ten months, per Eurosport, marking his debut with clean sheets in his first two games. Along with new manager Pascal Dupraz, Lafont spurred his team on to avoid what looked to be inevitable relegation.
Standing at just over 6’3’, Alban Lafont possesses all of the key areas of skill and aspects to his game that point to him becoming a world-class goalkeeper. His frame is lanky, but he’s very strong in the air, with a very reliable catch and hold ability; to add to this, he’s mighty brave, often hurtling himself towards crosses regardless of those in his way.
As eccentric as his saves and catches can be, one of Lafont’s greatest aspects is his calmness. The Frenchman is rarely flustered, always concentrated on the play around him, and makes good decisions because of it. His natural lankiness allows him to reach out for big saves, but his rapid reactions and foot speed get him in the way of so many shots.
This season, a season of solid progression and growth for the young man, was highlighted by his two clean sheets against PSG – one of which resulted in a 2-0 win for Toulouse – with Lafont making a number of strong saves, one which simply stunned elite striker Edinson Cavani.
Next steps for Lafont
Alban Lafont is with Toulouse for now but, like fellow wunderkind goalie Gianluigi Donnarumma, it won’t be long before a bigger club snatches him up. First team football in a top division will continue to grow the teenage sensation into his lofty potential, and hopefully one of the elite teams do not bring him to their club until they’re ready to have him as their starter.
So many young goalies have their careers ruined by big teams losing them to depth, but hopefully, something along the lines of how David de Gea has grown into his potential will occur – when an elite club trusts in the young goalie, knowing they’ll develop into something great. Patience and experience are always key to young goalkeepers.
If Alban Lafont does follow the ‘de Gea route’ he could very well develop into a goalie worthy of challenging for France’s number one spot for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, if not most certainly by the 2024 Euros – expected to be held in Germany or Turkey.
However, if the Frenchman does move to a big team that already has an established or strong up-and-coming keeper, such as Barcelona or Chelsea, he may be lost for a few seasons – setting back his rise to prominence for his national team. That’s not to say that Lafont won’t continue to improve at a club such as these, but the potential that he has right now – to become France’s starting goalie in five to six years – requires him to have a first-choice role at a top team.
Based on his performances so far and the praise that he’s received from those in and around Ligue 1, Alban Lafont certainly has the potential to become France’s number one keeper to continue a possible dynasty reign by the nation on the international stage.