Jan Oblak Has Quietly Risen to the Top of the Goalkeeper Mountain

Jan Oblak broke another La Liga record against Osasuna
Jan Oblak broke another La Liga record against Osasuna / Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak needed just 182 La Liga games to reach 100 clean sheets, reaching the milestone 40 games faster than previous record holder Miguel Reina in the 1970s.

Just think of all the greats who have played in Spain - Iker Casillas, Victor Valdés, Santiago Cañizares, Andoni Zubizarreta, Ricardo Zamora himself and more. Oblak has the statistics to not only rival them, but surpass them.

While Oblak's legacy may not be as strong as those aforementioned icons, there's no doubting that the Slovenia international now must be viewed as the greatest goalkeeper on the planet.

Truthfully, it's an honour which probably should have been given to Oblak a few years ago, perhaps after he won his first Zamora Trophy (given to La Liga's best goalkeeper) in 2015/16. He conceded just 18 goals all season, but that somehow wasn't good enough to earn him the attention he deserved.

Instead, fans around the world were drooling over Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer and Manchester United's David de Gea, and not without good reason. Those two were (and still are) outstanding goalkeepers.

Oblak then won the Zamora Trophy for a second time in 2016/17 and was even nominated for the Ballon d'Or, but the Atlético man finished down in 26th in the final award standings. De Gea and Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon were both well ahead.

2017/18 was a similar story. Another Zamora Trophy, another Ballon d'Or nomination and another frustratingly low finish in the rankings. Alisson and Thibaut Courtois finished ahead and somehow Hugo Lloris ended up just two points behind Oblak. That tells you everything you need to know about the skewed opinion of goalkeepers in recent memory.

Oblak reached 100 clean sheets in just 182 La Liga appearances
Oblak reached 100 clean sheets in just 182 La Liga appearances / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

After yet another Zamora Trophy victory and with a few more records under his belt, Oblak is now getting the credit he has long deserved. With lightening reflexes, commanding leadership and outstanding vision, Oblak is now on the throne which has been waiting for him for years.

So, why has it taken him so long to get there?

Oblak has been cursed by fans' inability (those outside of Madrid anyway) to pay attention to individual accolades which aren't the Ballon d'Or. He was the Portuguese league's best goalkeeper once, Spain's best four times and the Champions League's finest twice, but that rarely matters.

Instead, what people look at is team success, and Atlético simply haven't had enough of that.

Diego Simeone has struggled to lead Atletico to silverware recently
Diego Simeone has struggled to lead Atletico to silverware recently / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Oblak arrived at the club in the summer after their La Liga title victory, and he's yet to get his hands on that trophy himself. Instead, he has managed one Spanish Super Cup, one Europa League and one European Super Cup.

Compare that to Neuer who, across the same period, is a six-time Bundesliga winner. On paper, it's chalk and cheese.

There's this perception of goalkeepers that they have to be successful to be good. If you can't lead your team to trophies, you're not saving enough shots. That's the pit into which Oblak has fallen.

He saves shots better than anyone on the planet, but Atlético can't make it count. A combination of Diego Simeone's defensive tactics and having to compete with both Real Madrid and Barcelona has made it nearly impossible to enjoy the kind of career which Neuer has in Germany.

With Atlético languishing well behind in the title race this season, there will be circles of fans who still don't feel Oblak is one of the best, and the injustice is destined to go on for a few more years.

However, there's a reason Oblak keeps winning these awards (he's in the running for another Zamora Trophy this year too) - he's really, really, really good. The numbers don't lie.

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