You’ve probably never heard of Oscar Whalley. But soon you will have, and not just from reading this article. This is a highly rated young goalkeeper who is going places – one of which could well be a club in England.
First, a bit of background on the 22-year-old. Born in Zaragoza to a Mexican mother and English father, Whalley joined his hometown club when he was 12, soon establishing himself as one of the academy’s most promising keepers.
Be like Edwin
Within five years, Whalley was fast-tracked through Real Zaragoza’s academy to train with the first team, while gaining a season’s experience as the B team’s No.1. In May 2014, he made his first-team debut at Zaragoza’s Romareda against Sporting Gijon.
“That remains my best moment as a professional,” Whalley tells FFT. “I was 19, which is really young for a keeper. We usually mature when we’re in our early 20s, but I felt ready. Very determined.
“I wasn’t nervous, I felt the coach’s confidence in me because he selected me. I’m not the sort of guy who ever suffers from nerves, either. Anyone who knows me will tell you that.”
Tall, athletic and blessed with a sure touch, Whalley is every inch the modern keeper and has interested several Championship clubs this season.
“I’m one of the newer style,” he says, “who like to play with their feet and play as an extra defender. I wouldn’t compare myself with him, but I loved watching Edwin van der Sar when he was at Manchester United.
“Whether it’s anticipating a through ball by coming off your line or starting an attack, it’s a very important role.”
Footage courtesy of Wyscout
Life under Leo
After half a season as Zaragoza’s first choice in 2014/15, Whalley lost his place to more experienced alternatives under new coach Ranko Popovic, but this term the youngster has impressed on loan at Segunda Division side Huesca, as the Aragonese battle to avoid relegation.
“At the beginning of the season, the coach preferred Leo Franco’s experience, but while Leo has been out of the time injured I’ve played well,” says Whalley. “I’m learning every day and getting more experience. I played both legs of the Copa del Rey tie against Villarreal and felt great. I was decisive in a 3-2 win in the first leg and was really busy in the return leg at the Madrigal.
“That was the biggest game I’ve played in. The atmosphere was amazing and is something that will always stay with me. I want more games like that. I was kept very busy but saved a lot tough chances. Thankfully, I passed the test.”
Beginning the campaign behind 38-year-old Franco, Whalley has deputised on more than 20 occasions for the experienced Argentine keeper of ex-Atletico Madrid fame, and who was also a Zaragoza team-mate.
“Leo’s my football father. Ever since I made the step up from the Zaragoza academy into the first team, he’s always been there, offering advice and looking after me,” says Whalley.
“I’ve learned so much from him, even just training with him every day. It’s still the same now at Huesca. He’s a fantastic guy. The best piece of advice he’s given me is to always believe in myself and that I can achieve anything I want.”
Twist of fate
Those potential achievements were originally as a left-winger, for his local amateur team in Zaragoza.
“Halfway through one season,” recalls Whalley, “we lost our regular keeper because his dad’s work situation changed. We all took turns at going in goal and when it was mine I really enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve always been a keeper.
“I like that it’s decisive. You’re the most important player in the team, its balance, and though you can’t score a goal, you can be decisive in saving one. You’re almost like a striker.
“It’s tough. If you save every shot, then you’ll be the hero. If not you’re at fault, but that’s why I love the position, because you’re so important to the team.”
Whalley spent much of his youth watching La Liga and the Premier League with his dad.
“My hero was German Burgos, the Atletico Madrid keeper, who’s now an assistant to Diego Simeone. He was crazy, El Loco. I used to watch all his games on the TV with my dad because he liked Atletico ever since he first moved to Spain,” laughs Whalley.
“My dad didn’t really play much football, just a bit as an amateur when he was living in Germany. He played a lot of rugby at school and carried on doing that. He was a hooker.
“Have I thought about playing rugby? No chance! Nobody really plays rugby in Spain. A round ball, not the oval one, is best for me!”
So, with the Huesca loan due to run out at the end of the season, what of the future? Could a return to the family roots be on the cards?
“England has a special place in my heart because I have family there – my aunt lives in London and my grandparents in Blackburn. We go to visit them every year, usually in the summer. I’ve always felt that love and care for the country and would love to play there.
“I have an English passport, so why not? I’ve been called up to the Spanish U21 squad before, and if England asked, I’d be delighted to join up. With all my family there, it would be special.
A confirmed Anglophile also in his music tastes (even if it is Coldplay), does he have a favourite place in Blighty?
“I love visiting my aunt in London. She lives near Tottenham Hale. There’s a real diversity to the city’s culture.”
Whatever (and wherever) the future holds, Whalley is definitely one to watch.
“Five years is a long time in football,” he confesses. “I prefer to approach things step by step and to learn my trade as a professional and just to think about my next game.
“If you tell me that in five years, I’m going to playing for an important side in Spain or England, fighting to win titles, I’d sign for that right now!”
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