Mike Maignan will be France's number one goalkeeper for their upcoming UEFA EURO 2024 qualifiers against the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, coach Didier Deschamps confirmed on Monday. But will AC Milan's former LOSC Lille man be the long-term successor to Hugo Lloris?
ligue1.com looks at the outstanding cast of custodians hoping to step into the gloves of France's all-time leading appearance maker.
Club: AC Milan
International debut: 07/10/20, France 7-1 Ukraine
Like Alphonse Areola, Maignan is a product of the PSG youth academy, though unlike his rival for the number one spot with Les Bleus, he never made a first-team appearance for the 10-time French champions. Not that that has stunted his career growth. He learned from training on a daily basis with superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and after backstopping Lille's Ligue 1 Uber Eats title win in 2020/21, he has become one of Serie A's leading goalkeepers in Milan.
WATCH: Maignan keeps a clean sheet in Lille's win at PSG
He has featured at every international level from U16 through to the senior squad, receiving his first call-up in May 2019, and featuring in nine squads before making his debut almost a year-and-a-half later. Already named back-up to Lloris — in front of long-time second-choice Steve Mandanda — for EURO 2020, the position is in Maignan's gloved hands for the moment.
Verdict: It's Maignan's mantle to hold, but should his performances slip, so will it, and there's fierce competition ready to snatch it up.
Club: West Ham United
International debut: Germany 0-0 France, 6 September 2018
Only the fourth man to pick up a FIFA World Cup winner's medal before he had even made his senior international debut, Areola was third-choice behind Lloris and Mandanda in Russia in 2018, and again in Qatar four years later. His experience of major international tournaments (albeit from the bench) and longevity in the squad will count in Deschamps' thinking with the France coach proven to be loyal to those who have played and succeeded for him in the past. You can see that in the fact Areola was named in the squad for this round of games.
That's because the former Paris Saint-Germain and Lens man has a significant problem: he is not first-choice at his club with Lukasz Fabianski the man between the posts at West Ham United. Only a recent injury to the Poland international has given Areola a chance to play — prior to late February, he had featured in just over 100 minutes of the Hammers' English Premier League season. Without that, would he have been included? It seems unlikely.
Verdict: Unless he can establish himself as first-choice at his club, his days even as a back-up goalkeeper for Les Bleus seem numbered.
International debut: N/A
Samba has never featured for France at any level, but the quality of performance he showed in helping Nottingham Forest back into the English Premier League last season has been repeated since returning to Ligue 1 Uber Eats last summer to join Lens. If Franck Haise's side boast the best defensive record in the division after 28 games, Samba — the only man along with centre-back Kevin Danso to have played every minute so far — has been a central reason why.
He will get a chance to impress Deschamps in training, and given how he has emerged from failing to break into the first team at Marseille — where he was back-up to Mandanda — and then taken the route to the top via Caen and a resurgent Forest, the DRC-born stopper has the character and the quality to establish himself.
Verdict: His lack of international experience at club level must surely count against him, but with Lens on course to finish in the top three, he would add that to his CV next season.
Caps: 14 (U21)
International debut: N/A
Lafont's career so far has been the stuff of boyhood dreams, which is appropriate given he was just 16 years old when he made his Ligue 1 Uber Eats debut for Toulouse in November 2015. Since, he has amassed over 250 senior first-team appearances — a season at Fiorentina aside, the vast majority in France with Toulouse and Nantes — helping the latter lift the 2021/22 Coupe de France. And he's only 24.
WATCH: Lafont stops a Neymar penalty as Nantes beat PSG
The fact he lifted the trophy as captain — given his age — tells you a lot about his character, a compliment that is all the stronger coming from a coach as demanding as Antoine Kombouaré, himself a born leader. Called up for the first time by Deschamps in September 2022 after Lloris dropped out due to injury — an omen, perhaps? — Lafont has yet to play for his country at the highest level. He was left out of the current squad, with Deschamps explaining that though "he deserved it", Lafont was sidelined at the expense of Samba, who is four years the Nantes man's senior.
Verdict: Huge domestic experience, but still a work in progress on the continental and international stage. But given his age and his talent, his time will come.
Just off the radar: Lucas Chevalier (21, Lille), Illan Meslier (23, Leeds United) and Stefan Bajic (21, Valenciennes) have all been called into a strong U21 squad for this month's friendlies against England and Spain. Meslier — thanks to his Premier League experience — is clearly the most likely to be the first of the trio to step up to the senior squad in the future.