How AC Milan's 'Magic' Mike Maignan became the world's best goalkeeper

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Mike Maignan AC Milan 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Frenchman has made a sensational return from injury, reminding everyone of his brilliance with a string of superb saves for club and country

After Emiliano Martinez's antics at Qatar 2022, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) have announced that goalkeepers will no longer be permitted to delay the taking of a penalty - or distract their opponent by touching the crossbar or the posts before the shot.

Mike Maignan was less than impressed by the rule change, feeling that the shot-stopper's job has now been made even more difficult.

"New IFAB penalty rules 2026: Goalkeepers must have their backs to the shot," the AC Milan No.1 sarcastically wrote on Twitter.

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Maignan's frustration is understandable, of course. The thing is, though, when it comes to the Frenchman, one would still expect him to save the spot-kick in such a ludicrous scenario.

He has, after all, made a succession of logic-defying stops in recent weeks, prompting many pundits to proclaim him the world's best goalkeeper.

  1. 'An unbelievable save'

    'An unbelievable save'

    During the international break, for example, he saved a Memphis Depay penalty in France's 4-0 rout of Netherlands in a Euro 2024 qualifier in Paris. Three days later, though, he did something truly extraordinary.

    With France leading 1-0 but under the cosh in the final stages of their meeting with Ireland in Dublin, Nathan Collins made what looked like the perfect contact with a cross to send the ball arrowing towards the top corner of Maignan's goal.

    However, the goalkeeper somehow managed to not only get a hand to the close-range header, but deflect it away to safety with a stunning show of dexterity that Didier Deschamps described as "worth a goal".

    Collins couldn't believe it. He thought he'd done everything right. "I got as high as I could," the defender said afterwards, still in disbelief. "I got power behind it, but it’s an unbelievable save.

    "That’s the difference at the top level; it’s so frustrating."

  2. Denying Di Lorenzo
    Getty Images

    Denying Di Lorenzo

    Just a couple of weeks later, it was Giovanni Di Lorenzo's turn to be denied by a man known as 'Magic Mike' in certain sections of the Italian press.

    With just seconds to go in last Wednesday night's Champions League clash between AC Milan and Napoli at San Siro, the visitors carved out their best opening of the evening for their club captain.

    Di Lorenzo made great contact but, again, Maignan was equal to it, getting down swiftly and nimbly to turn the defender's shot around the post and preserve Milan's precious 1-0 goal advantage going into Tuesday's second leg at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

  3. 'You have to follow him'

    'You have to follow him'

    Maignan's heroics over the past month have astounded some, but those that have been following Frenchman's career closely are not in the least bit surprised.

    It was clear during his time at Lille that he was a special talent. Indeed, the first time Milan coach Stefano Pioli saw Maignan in action, during a Europa League group-stage clash with Les Dogues, he turned to his goalkeeping coach and said, "You have to follow him!"

    And the Rossoneri did.

  4. A bargain buy
    Getty Images

    A bargain buy

    When it became clear that Gigi Donnarumma wasn't going to sign a contract extension in 2021, Milan moved quickly to wrap up a deal for Maignan before the Italy No.1 had even confirmed his departure.

    It proved an absolute masterstroke - and a sensational bit of business, with the Serie A side paying just €13m (£11m/$15m) for his services.

    Because while the loss of Donnarumma on a free transfer hurt Milan, Maignan immediately soothed the pain.

    Less than a month after his arrival, he was saving a penalty from Mohamed Salah in the Champions League, while Donnarumma was sitting on the PSG bench in Bruges.

    By the season's end, he was a Scudetto winner, having helped Milan win their first Serie A title in a decade by keeping an incredible 17 clean sheets.

    He even chipped in with a fantastic assist for Rafael Leao at one point, illustrating his comfort with the ball at his feet.

  5. France's No.1

    France's No.1

    By the start of the new season, there were mounting calls in France for national team boss Deschamps to make him first-choice for Qatar 2022, ahead of captain Hugo Lloris.

    So, the calf injury that ruled Maignan out of the World Cup actually spared Deschamps - a man renowned for being overly loyal to his favourite players - an incredibly tough decision, one that would have provoked a colossal amount of controversy had he stuck with the walking liability that is Lloris.

    In Milan, there was simply concern at how much time Maignan was taking to recover from what initially looked like a minor muscular problem.

    There were even utterly unfounded rumours that the real reason for the 27-year-old's extended absence was a recreational drug problem.

    Maignan responded in the best possible fashion.

  6. 'My only drugs: faith, hard work and victories'

    'My only drugs: faith, hard work and victories'

    After marking his return to competitive action by almost inevitably keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Atalanta in February, he posted on Instagram: "My only drugs: faith, hard work and victories."

    His return has come as a huge boost to Milan, who struggled horribly in his absence, shorn not only of his excellent shot-stopping and impressive distribution, but also his organisational skills on the field and his positive influence off it.

    "We wish [Donnarumma] a luminous career but we are very happy to have Maignan at Milan," sporting director Frederic Massara told Sport Mediaset last year.

    "Maignan managed to settle in straight away to Italian football, becoming a reference point for the locker room and we believe he can continue to improve."

    Unfortunately, since Maignan's return, victories have still proven hard to come by for Pioli's painfully inconsistent side - at least in Serie A - but they are excelling in continental competition.

    Again, Maignan has been key, turning in a terrific performance in the 0-0 draw at Tottenham that set up an all-Italian affair with Napooli in the quarters.

    Playing the Partenopei appears to be bringing the best out of Milan's erratic players - they have beaten the runaway league leaders twice in the past few weeks.

    However, there's no doubt that they'll once again lean heavily on Maignan at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Tuesday, particularly with Napoli's star striker - and former Lille team-mate - Victor Osimhen fit to start after missing the sides' past two meetings through injury.

    Luckily, Magic Mike has no fear of the spotlight.