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How brilliant is Under-21 EURO tournament ambassador for Slovenia Jan Oblak?

Tournament ambassador for Slovenia Jan Oblak has been making headlines since he was 16 and is considered one of the world's best goalkeepers.

Jan Oblak of Slovenia
Jan Oblak of Slovenia AFP via Getty Images

Jan Oblak, Under-21 EURO tournament ambassador for Slovenia, first appeared for his nation at that level aged 16 in 2009 – a decade on he is captain of his country and considered one of the world's great goalkeepers.

We track his rise and journey from the Olimpija Ljubljana youth academy via Benfica to Atlético and European honours.

Slovenia

• Oblak's father Matjaž was a lower-league goalkeeper and his mother a handball player. While Jan's sister Teja became a basketball international, he followed in his father's footsteps.

Watch Oblak's 2020 masterclass against Liverpool
Watch Oblak's 2020 masterclass against Liverpool

• Three months after his breakthrough at Olimpija Ljubljana, Oblak, still aged 16, made his competitive national-team debut in a UEFA U21 EURO qualifier against France on 5 September 2009.

• He continued with the U21s for the next four years but had already earned his first senior cap on 11 September 2012 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Norway.

• Oblak became Slovenia’s regular No1 following Samir Handanović‘s international retirement at the end of 2016.

• In their UEFA Nations League campaign in 2020, Oblak kept clean sheets in all five of his appearances to help Slovenia earn promotion.

Olimpija Ljubljana

• Aged 10, Oblak left local club Ločan for the academy of the club now known as Olimpija Ljubljana, regularly making the 46km journey from his home.

• Having attracted interest from Empoli and had a trial at Fulham, Oblak made history on 17 May 2009 when he made his senior debut in the second division for Olimpija, becoming the youngest player to take part in a professional game in Slovenia.

• Olimpija were promoted to the top division for 2009/10 and Oblak was the regular first-choice keeper as they finished fourth. He was soon attracting interest from all over Europe, taking a trip to Anfield at Liverpool’s invitation.

• His coach Jani Pate said: "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."

Benfica

• In summer 2010, Benfica signed the 17-year-old Oblak from Olimpija. To gain experience, he was sent out on a series of loans to Beira-Mar, Olhanense, Leiria and Rio Ave.

• Oblak extended his Benfica contract in August 2013 and that December he made his league debut for the Eagles, coming off the bench after 69 minutes to replace Artur in a 3-2 defeat of Olhanense.

Jan Oblak was unbeatable at Juventus in the 2014 UEFA Europa League semi-finals for Benfica
Jan Oblak was unbeatable at Juventus in the 2014 UEFA Europa League semi-finals for BenficaAFP via Getty Images

• Oblak ended the year as the new first choice. His first three league starts were all clean sheets, including a 2-0 win against Porto, and Benfica ended the year as treble winners and UEFA Europa League finalists. Oblak kept clean sheets in the Portuguese Cup and Portuguese League Cup finals, both against Rio Ave, as well as in the 0-0 draw at Juventus that took Benfica to the UEFA Europa League decider.

Atlético

• In the summer of 2014, Atlético made Oblak reportedly the most expensive goalkeeper in Spanish Liga history.

• Initially second choice behind Miguel Ángel Moyá, Oblak made his competitive debut for Atlético in a 3-2 loss at Olympiacos on UEFA Champions League Matchday 1 but otherwise was restricted to Copa del Rey appearances in his first months at the club.

• Oblak’s chance came that March when Moyá was forced off injured 23 minutes into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg with Bayer Leverkusen. Atlético scored soon after and their 1-0 win meant a penalty shoot-out in which Oblak stopped Leverkusen’s first kick on the way to victory, modestly saying: “I’m not the main man, we are all heroes. We deserved to qualify.”

• With Moya out, Oblak continued in goal with three straight Liga clean sheets.

• Oblak continued as first choice the following season, one in which Atlético made it to the UEFA Champions League final. Not only was he named in the competition's squad of the season (as he was again in 2016/17 and 2019/20), but he also took the Zamora Trophy for having the Liga's lowest goals-per-game ratio of any goalkeeper, and retained it for the next three campaigns.

• Oblak's goalkeeping was now a crucial part of what made Atlético one of the hardest teams to score against in the world, the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup triumphs in 2018 tangible proof of that.

Proud Slovenian Jan Oblak with the UEFA Europa League trophy in 2018
Proud Slovenian Jan Oblak with the UEFA Europa League trophy in 2018Icon Sport via Getty Images

• In the five years from becoming Liga first choice at Atleti in March 2015, Oblak saved more than 80% of the shots he faced and kept clean sheets in 133 of his 245 appearances (including more than half his UEFA competition games). That month was also when he made an incredible nine saves in the epic UEFA Champions League round of 16 triumph at Liverpool.

• Diego Simeone said of Oblak: "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.”

What he says

On his father …
"I would always watch him. When he was at training, I would stand behind his goal and dive to the side that he was diving. I don’t know how old I was, maybe three or four. Everyone found it really funny – they were laughing because this small kid was behind the goal diving when his father dived, without the ball, just doing the same as him. I wanted to be like him."

On his career stats…
"For sure, the numbers are really crazy."

"I have not achieved everything that I would like, and that is why I am not satisfied, but I have no doubt that at the end of my career I will be. I know that I will achieve much more."

On the U21 EURO
"As a Slovenian national team player I am very proud that such a big tournament for U21 players can be played in Slovenia. I am sure that a few years ago nobody would have even imagined this could happen."