It was approximately one year ago in which the idea of 20-year-old Jan Oblak getting a start at Benfica seemed a far-fetched idea. This was around the time in which Benfica coach Jorge Jesus mentioned in an exclusive Benfica TV interview that the idea of Jans Oblak getting a start at Benfica was not going to happen. The reason? JJ felt that at the time Oblak lacked experience and was not ready. Oblak had just returned back to Benfica after spending the 2012/13 season as a starting goalie on loan at Rio Ave. Let’s not forget that Oblak arrived at Benfica when he was just 16-years-old and had prior stints at União De Leiria, Beira-Mar, and SC Olhanese. JJ’s argument of lack of experience being credited to Oblak had failed. Once again as we often protested on The Benfica Podcast we did not agree with JJ’s comments and we all agreed that if an opportunity presented itself throughout the 2013/14 season that Oblak would (and should) be able to show his worth.
It was Match Day #13 December 15, 2013 Benfica had traveled to The Estádio Algarve in Faro to face SC Olhanese. It was 2-2 and Artur went to make a monster save in which he hurt himself in the 63″. After Nico Gaitán being disallowed a penalty kick, the game was not sitting well for Benfica. Personally, I was convinced Benfica were going to lose points again and the game would end in a draw. After a few minutes, Artur finally came off and Jan Oblak was finally getting his big break. Benfica managed to win the game and Oblak began his first of many outstanding performances that would continue throughout the 2013/14 season.
Oblak continued his full form throughout the second half of the season. In 15 league games he only allowed 3 goals. Who can forget Match Day 15 when he shut out FC Porto in front of a sold out Estádio Da Luz. He went over 450 minutes from the end of Match Day17 – beginning of match day
23 without allowing a goal. His performance during the UEFA Europa League was exceptional. Although Benfica came in 2nd to Sevilla, Oblak was able to hold his head high after a superb debut UEFA final.
Let’s fast-forward now to one year later (the present) after the tremendous success Jan Oblak just had, it is now only evident with the upcoming 2014/15 season approaching it is no wonder that the 21-year-old Slovenian goalkeeper is on the radar of multiple teams such as the big 3 of Spain Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid have been linked with the transfer of Oblak.
Benfica President has gone on record to say that any team who are willing to pay the 20M € clause will be able to enter in negotiations with Oblak. My only fear (besides losing Oblak) is that Benfica will let Oblak go without a back-up plan. Who takes over for Oblak if this transfer occurs too early or too late during the summer transfer window? (Supposedly Oblak is performing medical tests on Madrid’s facilities as I am writing this blog)
Benfica’s alternative solution at the moment is Artur. We all remember Artur right? He was Benfica’s top goalie since 2011 while Oblak was still in diapers getting his feet wet on loan throughout Portugal. Artur has experience playing in Portugal (Braga) and throughout Europe (Roma, Other teams throughout Italy) and at 33 he still has some fight in him as long as he is match fit. Did we also forget that Artur carries the number 1 on his back? The problem with Artur is a similar one to Oblak as he has also sparked the interest of other clubs within Europe and may also be on his way out of the door as well. Also after spending an entire season on the bench going down to an injury and watching Oblak carry the team forward, Artur will need time to gain confidence and rebuild his self-esteem.
At Benfica there are other options as well. Paulo Lopes who although is “Made In Benfica” is
approaching the end of his career and based on his few games that he played throughout the previous season he is much more reliable with his current role as a back-up goalie then as Benfica’s main keeper. Then there are the “Made In Benfica” options who some can argue deserve a chance but may still be very green. Bruno Varela had a great showing during this past season on the B Team in which he has already capes over 50 games since 2012 and has been called up to the Portugal youth teams with over 20 caps. At 19 years of age, Varela has an impressive resumé thus far and perhaps (like Oblak) if an opening comes up may deserve a chance. 19 year old Thierry Graça will also go down as a future prospect as he helped the Benfica Juniores (U19) reach the final of the first ever UEFA Youth League competition. Eventually these are players whose services will be required at the main team level but still have a lot to learn.
Before giving the likes of Varela, Graça or other future prospects an opportunity on the main team can they handle being in competitive matches against the likes of FC Porto or Sporting? Will they represent the club well during UEFA competition? Although winning the league is always a top priority within Portugal, let’s not kid ourselves the bread and butter of Benfica (or any team for that matter) is how well and how far they advance in UEFA.
Also, with The World Cup pretty much wrapping up to even try and predict a goalie with any sort of possibility of coming to Benfica is impossible. Every team big or small was following this competition closely or from afar. We never heard much of Keylor Navas or Guillermo Ochoa until four weeks ago and now they are under every big budgeted team’s radar. Benfica, is still regarded as the team with the most supported fan base in the world (according to Guiness Book Of World Records) their fan base may be the biggest but their pockets are not the deepest. Oblak’s replacement does not necessarily have to be Portuguese or come from the Portuguese league but it also would not hurt? It was only 3 seasons ago in which Benfica had one of the best and most experienced goalies in the Portuguese League Eduardo who ended up at Braga and is now a top gem for The Seleção. It was hard to fit Eduardo into Benfica’s squad at the time because he was on loan from Genoa and Artur had recently arrived at the Luz. Besides Eduardo playing a few cup games, he was not utilized well at Benfica. At this point it may be difficult for Eduardo to join Benfica as the 31 year old just signed a three year contract with Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Anthony Lopes is a young up-and-coming goalie who was born in France but has Portuguese citizenship. He is 23 and is a product of the Lyon youth system and currently plays as a starter for the main Lyon squad. Lopes has had brief experience playing in the UEFA Europa League competition and has been called up as a back up keeper during Portugal matches. For Lopes to continue to play in Lyon it may be because he either does not want to leave his youth team or he right offer from the right team has not been made. Based on Lopes experience he may or not go for a hefty fee.
Fraser Forster is 26 years old and plays for Celtic in the SPL. He was developed at Newcastle and had brief loans at Bristol, and Norwich County before signing onto Celtic. Forster has had UEFA Champions League experience representing Celtic in their last two campaigns. On November 7, 2012 Celtic defeated Barcelona 2-1 in a game in which Forster was given the nickname “La Gran Muralla” (The Great Wall) by the Spanish media. Forster set a new record on February 22, 2014 as setting the record in the SPL for most consecutive clean sheets in a row (13) with over 1200 minutes without conceding a goal. Often in the past it was reported by ABOLA that Benfica showed interest in the Celtic goal keeper. Forster seems as though he would adapt well at Benfica but may also go for a hefty fee.
The reality is that it is no surprise that Jan Oblak is on his way out of Benfica. Oblak is a young and talented goal keeper who has a buyout clause in which most big clubs can afford. Even if Oblak stays at Benfica for another season, it is very rare to find a young goalie with such exceptional talents at 21 years of age. If Oblak is going to leave then he must leave now we don’t want to have a repeat occurrence from 2 seasons ago in which Witsel and Garcia were traded towards the last days of the summer transfer window which left Benfica without a back up plan in sight. Hopefully this time around Benfica has a back up plan and is prepared for the loss.