For Fiorentina, the season is drawing to an excruciating close. Another defeat, this time to Milan, saw Vincenzo Montella wondering just how big the task in front of him will be in the following campaign. As he assesses his squad over the summer, however, he will be confident that one position is secure. His goalkeeper, Alban Lafont, has had a good first season in Florence and, considering his age, he has been one of the standout performers for the Viola this term. He is a rough diamond that, next term, could certainly become more polished.
The Viola haven’t recorded a victory since February 17, when they beat SPAL 4-1. Since then they have quite simply implode, yet they have only conceded 44 goals in 2018-19, putting them level on goals conceded with Atalanta and above Roma. That is down in some part to Lafont. The Frenchman only arrived from Toulouse last summer, but he has already showcased his exceptional natural ability and incredible calmness. Indeed, he has the tools to be one of Serie A’s best shot-stoppers.
Lafont’s performances in Ligue 1 had attracted interest from many of Europe’s elite clubs, Arsenal, in particular, tried to get his signature. He declined a move to North London in favour of Florence, however, stating how he felt he would get more playing time with the Viola and how that would aid his development. The choice seems to have paid off as he has appeared 36 times in all competitions and certainly been tested, given the Gigliati have been under pressure, especially in the latter stages of the campaign.
Lafont’s qualities were obvious from a young age. He was just 16 years and 10 months old on his debut, breaking the record set by Mickael Landreau at Nantes in 1996. His calmness under pressure was evident in the game as he wasn’t phased by the huge task placed in front of him. He kept a clean sheet and went from strength to strength. His shot-stopping ability is up there with some of the best in Europe, but it’s his positioning that is possibly his biggest asset. "I like his calmness. Alban makes quality decisions and his positioning is surprisingly good. A great career is ahead of him," said Landreau. Gregory Coupet - another once-highly rated French No 1 - also commented on how well Lafont read the game and bred confidence in his defence.
The 20-year-old isn’t perfect and there are flaws in his game, but his overall ability outweighs them. His distribution is often lacking, but this is down to his desire to find players from distance and start attacks. When it works it is effective, but it is an attribute that needs polishing. His ability to deal with crosses - in particular the timing of his runs - also requires attention as he comes across a little unstable at times. Once again, these are small issues in the grand scheme of things and. as with any young goalkeeper, mistakes will be made. As with Gianluigi Donnarumma at Milan, these mistakes will happen and, when they do, the ability to bounce back quickly is an important characteristic shown by Lafont.
Perhaps the biggest compliment for Lafont is that, according to Firenzeviola.it, the club are ready to sell Bartlomiej Dragowski, who has been in scintillating form during his loan spell at Empoli and has been linked with Roma. Next season, Lafont will no doubt improve further and will continue to rack up appearances, in turn gaining experience. He has already played over 130 first-team games in Ligue 1 and Serie A - not bad for a lad of only 20 years.
Serie A remains home to some exceptional goalkeepers. From Wojciech Szczesny and Samir Handanovic to Salvatore Sirigu and Alessio Cragno, there have been so many who have performed admirably. Perhaps because of Fiorentina’s recent form Lafont has gone a little under the radar, but fans of the Viola can be happy knowing they have a superstar in the making.