After veteran goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (36) announced his retirement from international football yesterday, the French Football Federation find themselves at the end of an era. With both the most appearances (145 caps) and the most appearances as captain (121) for any French player, Lloris has been a mainstay of the national team for more than 14 seasons. So who will replace him at the helm?
Per L’Équipe, a clear favourite is AC Milan’s hero Mike Maignan, who has made a name for himself in recent seasons as the shot-stopper responsible for both Lille’s charge to the Ligue 1 title in the 2020/21 season and Milan’s first Scudetto win in 11 years, one season later. Maignan was poised to play at Qatar 2022 but suffered a calf injury in September that may continue to prevent his participation with Les Bleus. With the beginning of Euro 2024 qualification just around the corner in March, it is expected that Rennes’ veteran Steve Mandanda will take the reigns for Didier Deschamps’ men, at least in the interim. His 35 international appearances set him up well to provide a commanding and experienced voice at the back for France – but his tenure in goal may only be temporary.
Alphonse Areola, with five caps, is a potential candidate. But his status as a benchwarmer at West Ham United means that he is out of form. He has managed just two appearances for the Hammers across the current Premier League season, second-in-line to Lukasz Fabianski. But perhaps Fabianski’s time is nigh? West Ham sit just above the relegation places (17th after 18 games), with goal difference all that sets them apart from Everton in 18th.
Nantes’ Alban Lafont was called up to the national team by Deschamps in September, but did not play. At 23, he stands out as a young alternative to Lloris, but his lack of experience may prove pivotal in Deschamps’ decision making. That said, he already has some silverware to boast, after Nantes won the French Cup last May.
A potential option for Deschamps is 28-year-old Brice Samba of RC Lens. With eight clean sheets in Ligue 1 this season, he is second only to Gianluigi Donnarumma of PSG, who has nine. His performances for Lens have catapulted Les Sang et Or into second place after 17 games, and helped them to beat reigning champions PSG 3-1 on New Year’s Day. Samba is also a proven penalty specialist, having made English headlines last year for his heroics in the play-off semi-final for Nottingham Forest against Sheffield United. Saving three penalties to send the Tricky Trees to Wembley for a meeting with Huddersfield Town.
Lucas Chevalier of LOSC Lille has four clean sheets in Ligue 1 this season across 11 appearances. For the 21-year-old, the future looks bright, and Deschamps would be mistaken not to pay attention to his progress. But the two-time World Cup winner may find himself spoilt for choice – he could also look to the 6’6 frame of Leeds’ Illan Meslier. At 22, Meslier still has time to prove himself. A first-team regular for Leeds since their return to the Premier League, he was instrumental in their 9th-place finish in 2020/21. But Leeds’ form has since dropped off, and a 17th place finish last season saw them flirting dangerously with relegation. Meslier will need to prove his consistency if he is to put his name in the running for France’s number one position.
Ultimately, the choice falls to both Deschamps and his goalkeeping coach, Franck Raviot, both of whom recently extended their contracts with the national team until 2026.
GFFN | Brendan Cox