After Signing a New Contract, How Good Can Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak Become?

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2016

LISBON, PORTUGAL - DECEMBER 8:  Club Atletico de Madrid's goalkeeper Jan Oblak in action during the UEFA Champions League match between SL Benfica and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio da Luz, on December 8, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)
Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Everyone involved will be looking forward to the return of the UEFA Champions League over the next couple of weeks, but for Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak in particular, it will be an experience to savour.

The last-16 of European football’s premier competition is, of course, where every footballer wants to be in late February and early March, but for Atletico’s Slovenian goalkeeper it was also where he started to prove his worth to his current employers.

After joining from Benfica in the wake of Thibaut Courtois’ return to Chelsea in the summer of 2014, Oblak initially found himself in a losing battle with Miguel Angel Moya for Atletico’s No. 1 shirt, with just one Champions League appearance and a series of runouts in the Copa del Rey to his name.

Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak stops a penalty during the UEFA Champions League football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on March 17, 2015.   AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

Then came the second leg of Atletico’s Champions League last-16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen last March, and a night that would change the course of Oblak’s career.

Moya’s injury in the first half meant that the substitute goalkeeper needed to be called upon, and after keeping a clean sheet to secure Atletico’s 1-0 win on the night, Oblak saved a penalty from set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu as the hosts made it through. It is not an exaggeration to state that he hasn’t looked back since.

An imposing figure and a goalkeeper who isn’t afraid to make his presence felt at the back, it is easy to forget that Atletico’s first-choice goalkeeper only turned 23 years old last month.

This week’s new contract will act as a welcome belated birthday present. With Oblak now tied to Atletico until the end of the 2020/21 season—which seems like light years away when you look at it—thoughts will turn to whether or not he can eventually make the same impact on a global scale as two of his predecessors between the posts at the Vicente Calderon: Courtois and David De Gea.

Of course, the mere fact that he’s from Slovenia will make that tough.

Slovenia's Jan Oblak shouts to his team during their friendly football match against Qatar on March 30, 2015 at the Lekwiya SC Stadium in Doha. AFP PHOTO / AL-WATAN DOHA / KARIM JAAFAR 
== QATAR OUT ==        (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Get

The central Europe republic missed out on qualification for UEFA Euro 2016 after losing in a playoff to Ukraine, meaning that their wait for a fourth international tournament goes on after participation at Euro 2000 and the 2002 and 2010 FIFA World Cups.

All of those were way beyond Oblak’s time, of course, but as some of the very best players in the world have shown over the years, you don’t need top international recognition to prove that you’re a good player.

Consistent, dominant performances for Atletico Madrid will do that, and given that Oblak has been a key ingredient as his side have conceded just 11 goals in 23 La Liga appearances this season, he seems to be well on the way to becoming one of the key members of the next elite group of goalkeepers who are set to challenge the likes of Manuel Neuer for the title of best in the world.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 06:  Manager Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on prior to the start of  the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and SD Eibar at Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Deni
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Atletico seem to think so, with the insertion of a £77.5 million release clause in his new contract believed to have “sent a message” to his potential suitors, according to Diego Simeone, as reported by Spanish newspaper AS (via the Daily Express).

In that same report, Oblak outlined his happiness in the Spanish capital, saying:

It shows the club trust me and I'm very happy about that and grateful to everyone who has helped me renew my deal. 

I feel very good, to be honest. I'm very happy here, with the whole team, the technical staff and all the people working here. So I renewed because I want to continue here.

All things that Atletico fans have heard from their star players before, of course, but there is a real sense that Oblak is here to stay and, given his age, could go on be the Atletico goalkeeper for years to come.

The return of the Champions League marks his first anniversary of a pivotal moment in his career, and here’s to many more.