As good as Donnarumma? Meet Wuilker Farinez, the Venezuela wonderkid wanted by Barcelona
Still just 21, the Vinotinto No. 1 already has ample experience and showed in his Copa bow that few can match him for shot-stopping ability
He may not be all too familiar yet across the Atlantic Ocean, but Wuilker Farinez is well on the way to becoming a household name in South America. The Venezuela goalkeeper’s agility, athleticism and pure shot-stopping ability have attracted no little attention, even from some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
Remarkably, at 21, this is Farinez’s third experience of the Copa America. The Millonarios No. 1 was Venezuela’s third choice in 2015 at the tender age of 18, and repeated that deputy role a year later in the United States as the Vinotinto went out in the quarter finals.
It was the Under-20s’ incredible run to the World Cup final in 2017, however, that finally confirmed Farinez’s burgeoning reputation as a future superstar. Since then he has been the undisputed starter for Venezuela’s seniors – and he must be considered in the same breath as Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is widely considered as the world’s best young goalkeeper.
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While Donnarumma certainly has far more top-level experience under his belt – at least at club level – in terms of pure talent alone, Farinez also has everything to go right to the very top.
One team that has been watching especially closely is Barcelona. The Catalans are expected to be in the market for an understudy goalkeeper behind Marc Andre ter Stegen in the current transfer window – with current backup Jasper Cillessen potentially departing – and have been drawn by the Venezuelan’s class for both club and country.
Barca have been scouting Farinez for several months now and he is considered a clear transfer target. More than any other single moment, it was the youngster’s astounding triple save back in March that drew Barca’s eye. With a nail-biting Colombian Primera game against Atletico Nacional poised at 1-1 Farinez somehow contrived to keep out the Medellin side by pure reflex and reaction. Overall in the Apertura he conceded just 15 goals in 20 outings, as Millonarios boasted one of the league’s most formidable defensive records.
“Since I was a kid I have always dreamed of going to Barcelona,” Farinez admitted when questioned on the links with Camp Nou in May. “I used to identify with their players, Messi, Iniesta, Xavi.
“We have to keep growing and imagining big things to be able to reach important goals.”
The player’s father has also recognised that “there have been certain overtures from Barcelona”, while revealing further interest from clubs in Mexico, Argentina and England.
Farinez has previous links with Spain, having trialled at none other than Real Madrid in 2013 as part of a prize organised in his native Venezuela. According to the goalkeeper himself, one of the training sessions organised by the Merengue was extended by “more than half an hour” – because nobody could score against him. Iker Casillas remains an idol of the 21-year-old, who like the Madrid legend is proving a precocious talent and already boasts 15 caps for Venezuela.
Previous reports have suggested that part of Farinez’s playing rights belong to Benfica, speculation that has nevertheless been denied on several occasions both by the Portuguese giants and the player’s inner circle. There is no reason why Barca cannot table negotiations following the Copa, with Millonarios willing to let their star go in the hope that he will continue to develop his talents elsewhere after almost two years in Bogota.
That is not to say, of course, that Farinez is the finished article. Venezuela’s 2019 Copa America debut – and his first appearance in the competition – showed that while the raw material to make a world-class keeper is there, he still needs to hone his craft.
Farinez’s principal weakness is in the aerial game. At less than 1.80m he is short for a professional goalkeeper, and his enthusiasm in coming out for crosses and set-pieces can leave his team badly exposed. Venezuela almost suffered his lack of judgement in the first minutes against Peru, when Farinez charged out and palmed the ball right into the path of Christofer Gonzalez; only VAR and a late offside call saved him from a disastrous start to the competition.
There would be time for him to atone for that early blooper, though. In the second half and with Peru pushing hard to break the deadlock, Edinson Flores found himself free in the area and pushed the ball towards what appeared to be an empty net. But he reckoned without Farinez, aptly nicknamed El Felino (The Cat) by admirers.
Having already denied Flores with a full-length stop, the goalkeeper somehow scrambled across to scoop the ball off the line. He even regained his footing in time to make a second point-blank stop, albeit with the whistle having already sounded for offside to keep the Vinotinto in the game.
“We just have to enjoy him,” coach Rafael Dudamel beamed when asked about his young star after the game. “What he is doing is just incredible,” captain Tomas Rincon added.
“I cannot explain why this kid has not yet made the leap to another big club, with all due respect to his current team, because he deserves it and I want that for him.”
If Farinez keeps up this heroic form a big move will surely follow the Copa. For now, though, he has another challenge: keeping out mighty Brazil, who showed their own prowess in front of goal by dispatching Bolivia 3-0 in their Group A opener without even moving out of third gear.
“The draw is crucial. We could have won but it pushes us on to keep working in order to take on Brazil in great shape,” he explained to reporters after Saturday’s game, while affirming that Venezuela have what it takes to cause a huge upset against the hosts.
Proving his obvious talents against a team like Brazil, having previously frustrated Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a March friendly win for the Vinotinto, would only further heighten his claim as one of football’s most promising custodians. And while Barcelona will be focusing on the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Arthur in the hosts’ starting line-up, the performance of the man charged with stopping them will also be of utmost importance in this crucial Copa clash.