Arsene Wenger is on the hunt for a goalkeeper who can not only challenge Petr Cech for the No.1 jersey at Arsenal, but become the long-term replacement for one of the Premier League’s greatest stoppers.
In Alban Lafont, the teenager who has already established himself as a No.1 in France, Wenger thinks he has found his man.
Football Whispers take a look at the 18-year-old playing for Toulouse and why he could become the man between the posts at the Emirates, sooner, rather than later.
Who is Alban Lafont and where does he come from?
Born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Alban followed his family to France as a nine-year-old and began his football career playing for AS Lattoise, a small club on the outskirts of Montpellier.
In his early days, the tall, lanky kid was used as a midfielder and then into a forward before finding his home between the posts.
After impressing onlooking scouts, he joined the youth set-up in Toulouse in 2014.
Yet to turn 16, he was playing for the Under-17 side and quickly progressed to the Under-19s and by 2015 he had already appeared for the reserve side who play in France’s fourth division. It was clear the youngster had talent.
During the 2015/16 campaign, Toulouse were suffering something of a goalkeeping crisis.
Neither Ali Ahamada or Mauro Goicoechea had managed to keep a clean sheet and Le Tefece were struggling in a relegation battle.
On November 28, 2015, Toulouse took on OGC Nice at the Stade Municipal.
The home side were in 19th position having taken just nine points in 14 games. Toulouse had won just once, conceding 12 goals, and it looked like they were destined for the drop.
Dominique Arribagé, the then-coach, decided to take a risk that game, handing a debut to the 16-year-old goalkeeper. It seemed like a kamikaze move but it worked.
Wearing the No.40 shirt, he became Ligue 1’s youngest ever keeper, beating Nice’s Anthony Mandréa’s record – but he was only a substitute.
Ahead of him he had fellow teenager and fellow Arsenal transfer target Issa Diop playing at centre-back in what was perhaps the youngest defensive duo in Ligue 1 history.
Goals from Brighton transfer target Martin Braithwaite and a Wissam Ben Yedder penalty sealed a 2-0 home victory and Lafont had his first clean sheet. A star was born. He would follow that performance with another in the 3-0 win over Troyes.
“It was a bold move but it gave me the opportunity to shake up a squad that needed waking up,” said Arribage.
“He had struggled in a friendly against Eibar, but that made him realise what was required to play at the highest level.”
Pascal Dupraz, would step in to save the club. But a huge part of their success, securing their Ligue 1 place with a 3-2 win over Angers, was down to the teenage goalkeeper.
He picked up another seven clean sheets during the campaign, making that nine in just 24 games – impressive for a team that were in the bottom three of the table for the majority of the campaign.
Now, still only 18, he has already started 60 games in Ligue 1 and looks every part a future France No.1. Growing into his tall frame, he covers the goal extremely well and is commanding in the air.
His ability to make point-blank saves is outstanding.
His tremendous reflexes often help him pull off saves when the opposition are certain to score. Lafont managed that numerous times when Toulouse beat Paris Saint-Germain early last season.
For someone so big, he is able to get down quickly and can utilise his legs to reach awkward chances.
One thing he offers that Cech is no longer able to is ability to rush out and play as a sweeper. He’s quick along the ground and able to charge off his line quickly to clear the danger.
How much will he cost?
Lafont signed an extension to his current deal in 2016, which ties him up at the Stade Municipal until 2020.
Arsenal may have to pay as much as €20million to convince Toulouse to sell. That price could get close to the £30m Everton paid to sign Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford.
Where is his most likely destination this summer?
Obviously annoyed by the reports suggesting his No.1 goalkeeper would be leaving the club this summer, Dupraz was short and sharp when asked about the stopper’s future: “Lafont, he will not go!”
Toulouse will want to do everything to keep Lafont for at least another season and, in terms of his development, he will progress further with another full season in France, rather than playing back-up to Cech at Arsenal.
A rumoured transfer target for Marseille, too, their interest will have cooled after agreeing a fee with Crystal Palace to resign Steve Mandanda.
“The transfers are the responsibility of the president and his intention is to keep all our young players. I would be surprised if Lafont, Diop, [Christopher] Jullien or [Francois] Moubandje etc, left this club,” Dupraz told radio station RMC earlier in the summer.
Arsenal would be smart to try and progress a deal that saw him sign for the Gunners, but return to France and Toulouse on loan.
Leave it another summer and his asking price is only going to rise.