How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (2024)

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“You’re a s*** goalkeeper!” said Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he fired a shot at supersonic speed into the net during a Paris-Saint Germain training session.

Even the great No 1s the Swede had played with during his glittering career would have struggled to lay a hand on it. But when Ibrahimovic took aim a second time, 17-year-old Mike Maignan did more than that — he saved it. And what happened next was even more startling.

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“And you’re a s*** striker!” Maignan called out to one of the greatest forwards of all time.

Ibrahimovic stared at the youngster, speechless. Upon returning to the dressing room he approached the teenager.

“It’s all good,” Ibrahimovic said. “I like your personality.”

Over a decade later, ‘Magic Mike’, as he is known, is still refusing to take a backward step as he tackles his first major tournament as France’s No 1.

For so long in the shadow of former captain Hugo Lloris, who retired in January 2023, Maignan has kept four clean sheets in five games, the best record in the tournament, and has only conceded one goal. Even that was a Robert Lewandowski penalty against Poland which he initially saved, only to be penalised for coming off his line too early.

The 29-year-old’s philosophy is based on five words: faith, discipline, work, patience and humility, all of which are inscribed onto his gloves and boots. They have served him well in a career where rewards have not come quickly or easily: having received a first senior call-up in 2019, Maignan had to wait another three years to make his competitive international debut.

Now it is his time to shine.

“I hated football,” Maignan told French outlet Le Populaire, while an under-19 goalkeeper for PSG. “When it was on TV, I cried.”

Maignan only discovered his calling when he received a foam ball — a McDonald’s marketing toy used to promote the upcoming 2000 European Championship which his now-manager Didier Deschamps would go onto lift. As a young boy, that foam ball was attached to his foot, much to the dismay of his family, who were often left to pick up the pieces of items he had broken in the house. A few weeks later, when he blew out his candles to celebrate his fifth birthday, he vowed to become a professional footballer.

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Born in Cayenne, French Guiana, but brought up by a single Haitian mother in Villiers le Bel, a northern suburb of Paris, Maignan did not like school and a lot of training centres turned him away because of his poor academic results. In 2009, PSG’s youth academy took a chance and yet Maignan almost quit. He was, in his words “fed up” with the monotonous routine of waking up, going to class and training. All he wanted to do was play football.

His journey into goalkeeping came by chance at his first youth team, Villiers le Bel. His coach, Romain Damiano, knew at the time he had the future No 1 goalkeeper for France on his hands. “Now that he’s No 1, it’s game over for the others,” he told RMC. “With a healthy lifestyle, he’ll be there at least until he’s 40.”

How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (2)

Mike Maignan could be France’s No 1 for years (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

But it has not been a straightforward journey. Despite coming through PSG’s youth ranks, he never made a first-team appearance, always remaining on the bench as an unused substitute.

Maignan then joined Lille in 2015 and had to wait two years until then-manager Marcelo Bielsa dropped the experienced Vincent Enyeama to give him a chance. But while backup at PSG, Lille and the national team, Maignan always kept his head down, learning from those ahead of him. He won Ligue 1 in his last season with Lille, pipping his former club PSG to the title on the final day by one point.

In May 2021, AC Milan came calling, seeking a replacement for the formidable Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had moved to PSG and would go on to win the Euros with Italy that year. Italians were flabbergasted that Milan would not pay Donnarumma what he wanted and had no idea who Maignan was.

But the tall, imposing figure soon won over the sceptics. In his first season, Maignanhelped guide Milan to their first league title after an 11-year wait.

His form dipped last season, which may have been linked to his side’s issues in midfield and injuries in defence, as well as niggles of his own. Maignan came into this tournament with a finger injury but that does not seem to have bothered him.

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Instead, Serie A’s best goalkeeper has shown in the Euros what Italians usually witness: exquisite distribution and solid shot-stopping. Maignan ranks second of all 24 goalkeepers for preventing more goals than expected, given the quality of shots faced. After France’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, in which Maignan twice came off his line to deny Jeremie Frimpong, Deschamps said he was “radiant”.

How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (3)

Perhaps unsurprisingly givenMaignan believes he could have made it as a striker — he told France Football in 2019 that when he plays with friends, he plays as a No 9 — he is adept with his feet, as shown by the graphic below.

Maignan is comfortable playing short or mid-range balls to his back four and the majority of his passes and goal kicks are shorter than 40 yards, which makes sense given France prefer to build up from the back and do not have a target man to win aerial balls given Olivier Giroud has remained on the bench.

How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (4)

Maignan also reads the game well and has been alert to danger, coming out of his box frequently to sweep up actions.

“I am a modern goalkeeper,” he told GQ Italia. “But to be a good goalkeeper, you need to be able to mix new and old school. Modernity and the old game are the ingredients to get the best combination.”

When asked if he was the best goalkeeper in the world, Maignan said: “I’m not going to say, no. There are a lot of great goalkeepers around. I only focus on myself. I know my potential. I believe in myself. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. I don’t feel I’m a spectacular keeper. I try to do things in the simplest way possible.”

There is a sense of humility coupled with steadfast reassurance.

Maignan masters the basics well. Against Belgium he made three crucial saves much to the delight of France goalkeeping coach Franck Raviot who went over and shook him: “The master of the game… the master of the game!” he shouted. Between Maignon, Raviot and reserve goalkeepers Brice Samba and Alphonse Areola, there is a tight goalkeeper union who push one another to new heights. They, along with his predecessor Lloris, expected these performances given Maignan’s consistent work ethic.

“I’m not at all surprised that he’s playing at this level,” said Lloris to RMC. “He’s the symbol of this team today — ultra solid, like the defence and midfield. He exudes a lot of serenity.

GO DEEPERFrance's defence is controlled, disciplined and built in the image of Didier Deschamps

“His hard work is paying off,” added Samba. “Every detail counts, especially in goalkeeping.” Indeed for Maignan, the devil is in the detail and that is a “special” quality, according to his captain Kylian Mbappe.

“On set pieces, he tells everyone exactly where to stand,” Mbappe told Ouest-France. “He wants everything to be in its place, leaving no room for doubt.” For former Lille goalkeeping coach Eric Allibert, however, that was “incredible” and “exhausting”. “He takes you along with him, the preparation, the professionalism and the detail,” he told RMC.

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While around camp Maignan can seem more reserved, on match day, a switch is flicked. “You can tell from the look in his eyes,” said Areola.

That drive to achieve stems from making his mother proud. “She suffered with me,” said Maignan. “If I want to succeed, it’s more for her and my sisters than for me.”

That steely core was obvious when he and his Milan team-mates walked off the pitch in protest after Maignan had been racially abused by Udinese fans during a Serie A match in January.

When Maignan speaks, his deep, booming voice turns heads. The dressing room falls silent, and everyone listens. He assumes a natural leadership role, according to his team-mates, and standing at 6ft 3in (1.91m) tall, his imposing stature gives his team confidence.

“Guys, we have Mike!” said Marcus Thuram before the quarter-final shootout against Portugal, which they won 5-3 — their first penalty success in 26 years, when Maignan had not even started kicking that foam ball.

How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (6)

Theo Hernandez celebrates with Maignan after France’s win over Portugal (Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images)

Although Maignan did not save a penalty, he at least forced Joao Felix to hit the post. “He’s scary,” said Mbappe, who explained that when a penalty taker faces a good shot-stopper, it puts pressure on them to find the angle. “Sometimes, the angle is the post.”

For Maignan, penalties meant falling back on his solid foundations of resilience. “Our mental strength made the difference, we never wavered,” he said.

It was never going to be easy to replace Lloris, France’s most-capped player with 145 appearances. “The biggest mistake would be to try to follow in his footsteps,” said Mbappe. “Miky has to create his own path, and he’s off to a good start.”

For the majority of his career, Maignan has toiled when no one was watching. Now, all eyes will be on him as France await their biggest test yet in Tuesday’s semi-final against Spain.

(Top photo: Michael Regan – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images))

How 'Magic Mike' Maignan emerged from the shadows to become France No 1 (2024)

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