Three potential January destinations for Jan Oblak
On Nov. 13, Marca reported that Atletico Madrid is at risk of losing Jan Oblak in the January transfer window. The Spanish outlet reported that the goalkeeper is unhappy with his current contract and the board's lack of response to his demands, and that he is contemplating walking away from the club.
With a contract that won't expire until 2021 and a €100 million buy-out fee, I find it hard to believe that Oblak would leave Atletico Madrid anytime soon, let alone in January. There are very few big teams looking for a new number one goalkeeper, and it wouldn't make sense for Oblak to take a step down from a La Liga and Champions League contender like Atleti just to make more money. Personally, I don't think Oblak has serious ambitions to leave the Spanish club.
That said, with the January transfer window fast approaching, why not have some fun with this? Let's suppose that Jan Oblak does indeed leave Atleti in January. Which clubs could be open to signing him? Here are three teams that I think should consider bringing him in, ranked from least likeliest to sign him to most likeliest.
Why it could happen
Tottenham are a legitimate Premier League challenger. You can laugh all you want, but I think it's fair to call them such with all things considered. They have a respectable defensive unit, led by Belgian buddies Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, a diverse set of offensive tools in Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, and arguably the best striker in the Premier League in Harry Kane. This is a team that expects to challenge in the league, but to do so, they must start a consistent world-class goalkeeper, and that's something they currently lack compared to some of their league opponents.
With all due respect to Hugo Lloris, he's been far too inconsistent to give Tottenham a valid shot at league glory. This season alone, he's already made marquee errors against FC Barcelona and PSV in the Champions League, both of which resulted in goals. His mind does not seem to be in the right place, especially following his drunk driving incident in late August. Yes, Lloris is capable of producing a big game-saving stop, but he's equally culpable at erring in the oddest way. If Tottenham have serious title ambitions, they may have to replace Lloris with someone more reliable, and they have that opportunity in Jan Oblak.
There's also the question of Paolo Gazzaniga. At 26, he's considered to be the future of Tottenham goalkeeping. Gazzaniga's problem lies in his lack of appearances, though. The Argentine has made just six appearances with the Spurs, only three of which came in the Premier League. He has participated in five matches this season, but three of them came when Lloris was injured and one of them came when Lloris was suspended. Considering this, I question just how much of a future starter Mauricio Pochettino sees him as and if his presence would really prevent Tottenham from buying a new number one, especially if a goalkeeper like Jan Oblak is on the market. Gazzaniga's youth card doesn't apply here either, as Oblak is a year younger than the Argentine.
Why it might not happen
As much as I believe Hugo Lloris' ability has dropped, it really doesn't matter what I think. I am not the coach, Mauricio Pochettino is. In the end, it's up to the coach to decide who has a place at his club and who doesn't, and Pochettino has made it very clear that, despite his errors and off-field incidents, Lloris is an admired member of Tottenham. He has consistently backed the French goalkeeper, calling him "one of the best" and citing the goalkeeper position as "a very unfair position" overall. Pochettino clearly supports Lloris, and considering this, plus the fact that Lloris is club captain and has a contract with the team until 2022, it's unlikely that the Spurs would swap him in January with someone else, even if that someone else is Jan Oblak.
I also have my doubts that Tottenham would be willing to spend the big bucks needed to bring in Oblak when construction of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is still ongoing. That's not to say that the club wouldn't spend money on players while construction is underway; they still want to improve their team in every possible way. But when you consider Oblak's €100 million buy-out fee, which would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in history and put him in the top ten most expensive player transfers ever, as well as Oblak's potential wages and bonuses, I cannot see Tottenham willingly spend lots of money to bring him in, even if his presence undoubtedly improves the team.
Why it could happen
With the summer signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus made a statement that they're seriously contending for the Champions League this season. It's been 22 years since they last won the pinnacle of European club competition, and with five silver medals since that crowning moment, the Old Lady is doing everything she can to feel young again. But while their attacking quality is indisputable and their defence remains the best in Italy, it's their goalkeepers that caste some doubt on their European ambitions.
Following Juve's 2-1 loss to Manchester United earlier this month, when Wojciech Szczęsny erred late in the game to gift United the win, former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves asked, "How many sides have won the Champions League without a world-class goalkeeper?" When you look back at recent history, the answer is very little. Real Madrid won their last four UCLs with incredible goalkeepers; one with Iker Casillas and three with Keylor Navas. Barcelona's last four also came with top-notch 'keepers in goal; three with Victor Valdes and one with a young Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Bayern Munich won their 2013 title with Manuel Neuer, Chelsea won their 2012 title with Petr Cech, Inter Milan won their 2010 title with Julio Cesar, and Manchester United won their 2008 title with Edwin van der Sar, and so on and so forth.
The point is that, in this era, it's very hard to win the UCL without a goalkeeper who is A) considered one of the best in the world at the time, or B) considered one of the best young goalkeepers in the world at the time (like MAtS in 2015). Juventus have neither of those. Wojciech Szczęsny is far from a world-class goalkeeper, and although Mattia Perin was once considered the Azzurri's heir to Gianluigi Buffon, injuries have harmed his potential and he doesn't look to be taking the Juventus starting job anytime soon.
With Jan Oblak potentially on the market, Juventus have an opportunity to add the world-class goalkeeper they need to win the Champions League. There's arguably no better 'keeper in world football than the Slovenian, and his addition would make the Old Lady the competition's favourite by a fair distance.
Why it might not happen
Although Wojciech Szczęsny is not a world-class goalkeeper, he's still a 'keeper who has proven himself good enough for Juventus. Because the Serie A is not as watched worldwide as some of the other leagues (there was a point last year where they had the second-lowest TV ratings among American viewers), I think the average viewer only remembers the Szczęsny of Arsenal; a nervous goalkeeper who was susceptible to mistakes, temper tantrums and big scores in big games. What they've missed, though, is the development the Polish international has experienced in Italy.
Since he initially joined AS Roma on loan in 2015, Szczęsny has seen a growth in his abilities that was not evident while in England. Thanks to manager Luciano Spalletti and goalkeeper coach Nanni, Szczęsny was able to tap into some unrealized potential and even post some of the best numbers of his career. During the 2016/2017 season in particular, Szczęsny kept the most clean sheets in the Serie A (14), averaged the third-best saves per goal conceded record (2.93), and backstopped Roma to their best ever seasonal points total (87). This is a goalkeeper who is a far-cry from the one that once conceded eight in a game to Manchester United, and with an all-star cast in front of him, similar numbers to these would surely be enough for Juventus to challenge for the Champions League.
As for Mattia Perin, although he is a year older than Oblak, I don't think Juventus would be too keen to replace him after only six months at the club. The Old Lady paid €12 million + €3 million in bonuses for him, which, while cheap for a goalkeeper like Perin, isn't a fee that suggests he'll be released anytime soon. Furthermore, Perin's contract is four years long, so I think Juventus expect him to stick around for a while.
With all of this said, I don't believe Juventus would jump at the chance to sign Jan Oblak in January. I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility in the summer though, depending on how Szczęsny's first full season as Juve's number one goes.
Why it could happen
It's been seven years since Nasser Al-Khelaifi, then the new Paris Saint-Germain chairman and chief executive officer, introduced a five-year plan to take the club to the top of French and European football. But while the Parisians have certainly fulfilled Al-Khelaifi's domestic promise, they haven't found any success continentally, with their best showing being four-straight UCL quarter-final appearances between 2013 and 2016.
This season is expected to be different, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Edinson Cavani forming the best trio in world football. They also have an embarrassment of goalkeepers in their system, with the legendary Gianluigi Buffon and 25-year old Alphonse Areola swapping starts, while Kevin Trapp stays sharp with Eintracht Frankfurt on loan. That said, their goalkeeping is still arguably their weakest department.
Gianluigi Buffon was signed in the off-season to provide experience and a competition know-how, with three UCL final appearances under his belt. He's a short-term option, though. His contract expires mid-2019, and while there's an option for a second season, at 40 years of age, it's doubtful he'll stay any longer than that. PSG can't rely on his services for many seasons, so his long-term worth is non-existent. Alphonse Areola, although young and yet to hit his prime, hasn't been incredibly reliable in his career PSG starts. At best, he's only shown flashes of quality. As for Kevin Trapp, he seems to have fallen out of favour. As mentioned, the German is currently on loan with Eintracht Frankfurt and I don't think he'll return if he's not guaranteed starting minutes.
PSG are a club with Champions League ambitions. As great as it has been winning so many domestic trophies, their main focus is the UCL. Jan Oblak is already one of the best goalkeepers in world football, and at 25 years of age, he would provide stability not just as a short-term option, but also in the long-term.
Why it might not happen
Gianluigi Buffon's contract is near impossible to get rid of. Transfermarkt.com value Buffon at €1 million, and with just seven months left to go on his contract, I don't believe any team as big as PSG will want to pay that much for a 40-year old goalkeeper in January. This means that Buffon will almost certainly remain with PSG if Jan Oblak is brought in, and that would create problems with squad selection. After all, who would play in the UCL? Gianluigi Buffon, while the €100 million (minimum) Oblak is kept on the bench? Or Jan Oblak, while the experienced Buffon, who was practically brought in solely to help PSG win the UCL, is left on the sidelines?
I also don't think PSG would be interested in buying another goalkeeper in January. It's uncommon for 'keepers to permanently sign for first division teams mid-season if the club in question is not going through some sort of crisis. This is even more uncommon for the big clubs, who tend to stick with their regular goalkeepers until the season's end. Yes, we've learned that PSG don't do transfers like most top clubs, with big money spends and major buys a common occurrence in the French capital. But I don't know if they'd be jumping all over Jan Oblak mid-season.
In terms of the off-season, though? That's a different possibility.