Goalkeeper | Fiorentina | France
Young goalkeepers usually have to have the patience of a saint. An 18-year-old midfielder who is good enough to break into the first team will always get his chance, but a goalkeeper of the same age might have another five years to go before his team gives him an opportunity between the posts, especially at the top levels.
Few make the jump earlier, but Alban Lafont is very much in the latter category. Aged just 16 years and 310 days, he became the youngest goalkeeper ever to play in Ligue 1 when he started his first game for Toulouse against Nice at the end of November 2015.
At that point, Téfécé were firmly ensconced in the Ligue 1 relegation zone and five points from safety. At the end of the season, they managed to stay up after a miraculous final few weeks, by which point Lafont was the undisputed number one.
Since then, he has made well over 100 league appearances - 98 for Toulouse before moving to become Fiorentina’s number one in the summer of 2018.
2018 Has Been…
… A chance to step up.
It’s not very often that a player so young - let alone a goalkeeper - gets to a point where he simply has to move up a level in order to progress. It’s especially uncommon that such prodigious talents are already at clubs playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues, but last season Lafont played every minute of Toulouse’s Ligue 1 season - from game number one to the relegation play-off match they won to stay in the top flight. In fact, the only game in which he wasn’t selected was a French Cup match where his side were knocked out at the hands of lowly Bourg-en-Bresse.
In the summer, Lafont swapped one shade of purple for another as he moved to Tuscany to join up with Fiorentina. Since then, he’s established himself as the club’s number one and is blossoming into a reliable young keeper in a decent side.
Lafont is a lesson to others. He has charted a course and it is seeing him gain lots of game time at a good level, honing his skills as he grows.
He plays in a position that is as much about experience, concentration and feel as it is about technique. Goalkeepers need consistency, not time spent on the bench and at the moment he’s getting that in spades.
A solid season or two in Serie A cutting his teeth in a top league and in a team who can challenge for European spots in a good year is worthy progression before moving up another level in a few more seasons. While the majority of supremely talented youngsters are attracted by the names of the top clubs and perhaps even the pay packets on offer, Lafont has chosen to go as high as he can while still staying in the starting lineup. And in truth, that’s probably best decision any young player can make.