How 'Magic Mike’ Mignon – The Kid Who Hated Football – Became France No.1

„You’re a goalkeeper!” Zlatan Ibrahimovic blasts a shot into the net at supersonic speed during a Paris-Saint-Germain training session.

Even the best No. 1 players the Swede has played in his glittering career would have struggled to get their hands on it. But when Ibrahimovic scored for the second time, 17-year-old Mike Mignon did more than that – he saved it. What happened next was even more startling.

„You’re a *** striker!” Mignon calls one of the greatest forwards of all time.

Ibrahimovic stared at the young man without speaking. When he returned to the changing room he approached the teenager.

„Everything is fine,” Ibrahimovic said. „I like your personality.”

A decade later, 'Magic Mike’, as he is known, is still refusing to take a step back as he tackles his first major challenge as France’s No.1.

For so long in the shadow of former captain Hugo Lloris, who retires in January 2023, Mignon has kept four clean sheets in five games, the best record in the competition, and conceded just one goal. And he saved Robert Lewandowski’s penalty early on against Poland, penalized for coming off his line early.

Mike Mignon celebrates during France’s penalty shootout against Portugal (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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

Now is his time to shine.

„I hated football,” Mignon said French store Le PopulaireUnder-19 goalkeeper for PSG. „When it was on TV, I cried.”

Mignon 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 current manager, Didier Deschamps, would raise. As a boy, the foam ball was attached to his leg, much to the chagrin of his family, who often carried broken items home. A few weeks later, he blew out his candles to celebrate his fifth birthday, vowing to become a professional footballer.

Born in Cayenne, French Guiana, but raised by a Haitian mother in Villiers-le-Belle, a northern suburb of Paris, Mignon disliked school and was turned away by several coaching centers due to his poor academic results. In 2009, PSG’s youth academy made an offer, but Mignon almost left. He was, in his words, „fed up” by the monotonous routine of getting up, going to class and training. All he wanted to do was play football.

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His journey into goalkeeping came by chance at his first youth team, Villiers Le Belle. His coach, Romain Damiano, knew he had France’s future No.1 goalkeeper on his hands. „Now that he’s No. 1, it’s over for everyone else.” He told RMC. „With a healthy lifestyle, he’ll live to be at least 40 years old.”

Mike Mignon could be France’s No. 1 for years to come (Frank Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

But it hasn’t been a straight trip. Despite coming through PSG’s youth teams, he never made a first-team appearance and was always on the bench as an unused substitute.

Mignon then joined Lille in 2015 and had to wait two years for then manager Marcelo Bielsa to drop the experienced Vincent Enyeama to give him a chance. But as a backup at PSG, Lille and the national team, Mignon always kept his head down and learned from those in front of him. He won Ligue 1 in his final season with Lille, pipping his former club PSG to the title by a single point on the final day.

In May 2021, AC Milan came calling, looking for a replacement for the formidable Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had moved to PSG and would go on to win the Euros with Italy that year. The Italians were appalled that Donnarumma wouldn’t give Milan what he wanted and didn’t know who Mignon was.

But the tall, majestic figure soon won over the skeptics. In his first season as coach Tony Roberts also plays for the Wales national team, Mignon Helped lead Milan to their first league title after an 11-year wait.

His form dipped last season, which could be linked to his side’s problems in midfield and injuries in defense and his own Nickless. Mignon came into this match with a finger injury, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

Instead, Serie A’s best goalkeeper showed what the Italians usually witness at the Euros: neat distribution and solid shot-stopping. Mignon ranks second among all 24 goalkeepers for more goals than expected given the quality of shots faced. After France’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, Mignon twice came off his line to deny Jeremy Frimpong.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly given Mignon believes he could have been a striker – he told France Football in 2019 that when he was playing with friends, he would play as a number 9 – he is adept on his feet, as shown by the graphic below.

Mignon is comfortable playing short or intermediate balls into his back four, and most of his passes and goal kicks are under 40 yards, which makes sense given that France prefer to build up from the back and have no target man for success. Aerial balls given to Olivier Giroud were on the bench.

Mignon also reads the game well and is alert to danger, often coming out of his box to clear actions.

„I’m a modern goalkeeper,” he said GQ Italy. „But to be a good goalkeeper, you have to mix the new and the old school. The modern and the old game are the ingredients to get the best mix.”

Asked if he was the best goalkeeper in the world, Mignon said: “I’m not going to say, no. There are many great goalkeepers around. I only focus on myself. I know my talent. I believe in myself. I have worked very hard to get where I am. I don’t feel like I’m a fantastic keeper. I try to make things as simple as possible.

There is a sense of humility and determination.

Mignon has mastered the basics well. He made three crucial saves against Belgium, much to the delight of France goalkeeping coach Franck Raviot, who went close and shook him: „Master of the game… Master of the game!” he shouted. Between Maignon, Raviot and reserve goalkeepers Brice Samba and Alphonse Areola, there is a tight goalkeeper union that pushes each other to new heights. They, along with his predecessor Lloris, anticipated these performances given Mignon’s consistent work ethic.

„I’m not surprised he’s playing at this level,” he said Lloris to RMC. „He is the symbol of this team today – extremely solid in defense and midfield. He exudes great composure.

„His hard work is paying off,” Samba said. „Every detail matters, especially in goalkeeping.” Indeed for Mignon, the devil is in the detail and that is a „special” quality, according to his captain Kylian Mbappe.

„At set pieces, he tells everyone where to stand,” Mbappe said Western France. „He wants everything to be in its place, no doubt.” However, for former Lille goalkeeping coach Eric Allibert, it was „unbelievable” and „exhausting”. „He takes you with him, the preparation, the professionalism and the detail,” he said told RMC.

While Mignon seems more reserved around camp, on match day, a switch is flicked.

„You can tell by the look in his eyes,” Arreola said. That drive to achieve stems from making his mother proud. „She struggled with me,” Mignon said. „If I want to win, it’s more for her and my sisters than me.”

That was evident when Mignon and his Milan teammates walked off the pitch in protest at being racially abused by Udinese fans during a Serie A match in January.

When Mignon speaks, his deep, booming voice turns heads. The dressing room goes quiet and everyone listens. He assumes a natural leadership role and, according to his teammates, standing at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall, his majestic stature gives his team confidence.

„Guys, we have Mike!” Marcus Durham said before the quarter-final shootout against Portugal, which they won 5-3 – their first penalty win in 26 years since Mignon started kicking that foam ball.

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

Although Mignon didn’t save a penalty, he at least forced Joao Felix to attack the post. „He’s scary,” Mbappe said, adding that when a penalty taker faces a good shot-stopper, it puts pressure on them to find an angle. „Sometimes, the angle is the post.”

For Mignon, the penalties meant a return to his solid foundation. „Our mental strength made the difference and we never wavered,” he said.

Replacing Lloris, France’s all-time capped player with 145 caps, was never going to be easy. „The biggest mistake was trying to follow in his footsteps,” Mbappe said. „Mikey has to forge his own path, and he’s off to a good start.”

For most of his career, Mignon has worked when no one was watching. All eyes will now be on him as France await their biggest test in Tuesday’s semi-final against Spain.

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

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