Jan Oblak has kept a phenomenal eight clean sheets in 11 UEFA Champions League games this season; if he makes it nine in the second leg against Bayern, Atlético will be in the final. UEFA.com plots the Slovenian’s course to the summit.
The back story
The son of a goalkeeper, Matjaž Oblak, and the younger brother of Teja – a member of Slovenia’s women’s basketball team – Jan Oblak left local side Ločan for capital club Olimpija as a ten-year-old. He made his first-team breakthrough aged 16, in July 2009, at which time he was making the daily 25km journey from his home town to the club’s Mengeš training base by bike. Drafted into the national Under-21 side aged 17 by coach Tomaž Kavčič, Oblak (literal translation: cloud) soon came on to the radar of the big European clubs.
Jani Pate, former Olimpija coach
“He has everything that a modern goalkeeper needs. Moreover, I was always surprised by his maturity. Even though he was so young when he made it into the first team at Olimpija, he was eager to listen and follow all the instructions.”
Andrej Kračman, Olimpija goalkeeping coach
“After his departure to Portugal, we were often on the phone. Jan had some very tough months as he was just sitting on the bench. Luckily, once Benfica sent him out on loan, he got a chance at some other Portuguese teams. Soon after he got the call-up to the senior national team. Jan is actually fearless, he puts his head where a lot of goalkeepers would not. He is really a diligent workaholic; he never talked back in training.”
The Portuguese angle
A reported €1.7m move to Benfica in June 2010 made Oblak the most expensive sale in Olimpija’s history, but he was not immediately drafted into the first team, making his first Portuguese appearances while on loan at Beira-Mar (2010/11, two games), Olhanense (2010/11, no games), União de Leiria (2011/12, 17 games) and Rio Ave (2012/13, 31 games).
He seized his chance at Benfica in 2013/14 when first-choice stopper Artur Moraes was injured, conceding just six goals in 24 games – including a run of 12 matches in which he let in just one. Moved to Atlético in summer 2014 fresh from winning a domestic treble.
Nuno Espírito Santo, former Rio Ave coach
“Oblak is a keeper I appreciate, because of the technical ability he has, but also due to his character. He is a keeper that faces challenges in a very quiet way, without any stress or nerves, regardless of the opponent.”
João Tomás, former Rio Ave team-mate
“Despite being quite tall, he is very agile and has good hands. We used to say that he had ‘soft hands’ because he catches the ball with incredible ease. In short, he is a kid that was born to be a keeper.”
Carlos Pires, former Beira-Mar goalkeeping coach
He is one of those keepers that likes working; one of those who goes to training to work hard, learn even more and get better. It was so easy to work with him. Oblak reads the game well – he is good coming off his line, technically strong and very cool-headed and focused.”
Success at Atlético
Atlético reputedly paid €16m for Oblak – a Spanish record for a goalkeeper – but he did not settle in smoothly; he was injured in pre-season and rumours circulated that he was to be sold on before he made a single appearance, with Diego Simeone initially favouring Miguel Moyà.
Oblak made an error-strewn debut in a 3-2 UEFA Champions League loss to Olympiacos, but got the chance to redeem himself after Moyà was injured in the latter stages of the competition – cementing his No1 status with a stunning last-eight showing against Real Madrid. Now fluent in Spanish, he has struck up a great relationship with Diego Godín and José María Giménez in defence and is on course to set a Liga record for the fewest goals conceded in a single season. In 68 games for Atlético, he has kept 41 clean sheets.
Diego Simeone, Atlético coach
“I’ve always praised him for his commitment and hard work, especially the way he earned the place he has in the team. He arrived, didn’t play at first and got injured. Moyá did really well so he waited his turn and worked hard – normally when you work hard you get your reward. He won his place in the team and we’re delighted with him. He has an enormous future.”
Enrique Cerezo, Atlético president
“I think that if he’s not the best goalkeeper in the world he’s the second best. He’s proved that throughout the season.”
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 27, 2016