Jan Oblak has had a hard time since arriving at Atletico Madrid, from receiving criticism early on and attempting to replace the then-admired and longed-for Thibaut Courtois.
He watched players elsewhere with less ability than himself take individual trophies ahead of him, at least that is what he considers to be the case, and it is a result of a lack of trophies on his record.
The Slovenian has had to navigate too many obstacles to reach the status he currently holds. Far too many.
The summer of 2014 saw Atletico dive into the transfer market to ensure that Courtois’ departure wouldn’t totally disrupt the team, and they bet on a relatively unknown shot-stopper from Benfica in the form of Oblak.
He cost 16 million euros and became the most expensive goalkeeper in Spain at the time, and even the club’s coaching staff had doubts over him.
A muscle injury in pre-season saw Miguel Angel Moya take the starting spot, and in actual fact it was only an injury to the Spaniard which allowed the Slovenian to demonstrate just how wrong Los Colchoneros’ staff had been in their assessment of him. He did this by performing expertly in the Champions League. First test passed.
Overcoming the doubts of supporters would also take a lot of effort after conceding three goals from three shots against Olympiacos, and there was a feeling that the weight of the club colours might be too much for him.
This dissipated somewhat after he started to make save after save, and fans quickly started chanting Oblak’s name. Second test passed.
His rise within Atletico’s squad came at a time when Antoine Griezmann signed a contract worth 23 million euros a year, which was six times more than what the team’s most decisive player earned. We are, of course, referring to the goalkeeper. He stood firm on the terms of a contract renewal which his performances had earned, and the result was a salary worth 10 million euros per year, with a 20 percent increase on his 100 million euro buyout clause. His value on the pitch was now reflected on the club’s payroll. Third test passed.
The fourth test is the one which still needs to be completed. Beyond the four Zamora Trophies he has won, he has to be declared as the best goalkeeper in the world by winning FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award in his position.
A fantastic Champions League campaign in 2019/20 could have seen this finally happen, and it would signify the end of a hard journey for Oblak, but the awards have been cancelled for 2020. He has needed to overcome far more obstacles than he deserved, but his career in Madrid shows how he never shrinks in the face of adversity, the perfect attribute for a goalkeeper.