From the Handbook: Wuilker Faríñez
This profile was originally published in our digital-only handbook, Scouted Football Handbook 2018. A lot has changed since then. You can download it for free here. It's worth a read.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Wuilker Faríñez was once selected from a group of 3,000 teenagers to have trials with Real Madrid. One training session was extended by ‘about 30 minutes’ because no one was able to score against him. “It made me happy to know even coaches at that level couldn’t beat me,” the young goalkeeper told FIFA before this year’s U-20 World Cup.
After firmly establishing himself as number one for both club and country, Faríñez set multiple records and achieved incredible feats throughout 2017. Captain of the U-20 side that reached La Vinotinto’s first ever World Cup final at any level, he was arguably their standout player. This, in a side with numerous exciting and largely unknown quantities. Not only did he save two penalties in the semi-final shootout against Uruguay, he had one of the best save percentages in the competition (80%) and conceded just three goals in the entire tournament, none of which came in the group stages. Even in the final against England he made a string of excellent saves, only beaten by Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s rebound after saving his initial effort.
At a senior level, former Venezuela goalkeeper Rafael Dudamel—who also took charge of the U-20 side—continued to place his faith in his new apprentice with Faríñez starting six World Cup qualifying fixtures in the latter stages, conceding just six goals in the process. A penalty save against Alexis Sánchez and a masterclass against Argentina gave the world a glimpse of his talent whilst a historic clean sheet against Uruguay cemented his status as a national hero.
Wuilker Faríñez was the first Venezuelan goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet against Uruguay in World Cup qualifying since 2001
Already the undisputed number one for both club and country, Faríñez possesses all the desirable qualities for a top-level, modern-day goalkeeper and is yet to look out of place at any level he has played. The likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alban Lafont have set a precedent for young goalkeepers being trusted as the number one choice in Europe, with some arguing that Faríñez is superior to both a high-profile move is surely just around the corner.
A clean sheet on his competitive debut for Millonarios was the perfect start to this year, and he has since instantly become a fan favourite. Neither come as a surprise considering the Venezuelan’s infectious smile and shot-stopping ability is similarly endearing to neutrals. He was similarly effective on his debut for Caracas in 2015 and in his first appearance for Venezuela in 2016, keeping clean sheets on both occasions. He even holds the Caracas club-record for most consecutive minutes (689) without conceding, a feat he achieved when still only 17 years old.
STYLE OF PLAY
Faríñez is one of the most naturally gifted goalkeepers of his generation. Learning that he only committed to playing in goal when he was 14 years old may come as a huge surprise given his composure between the posts and the confidence in his own ability. But there are also signs that point towards this accelerated learning of the craft.
He is a gifted shot-stopper. The fact YouTube videos of Iker Casillas formed a major part of his learning process may be a reason why. Appearing quite unorthodox in his approach—as expected from someone who has learnt through mimicry rather than being explicitly taught—his methods are effective. Also, what he may lack in terms of height and occasional positional deficiencies, he makes up for with elite athleticism: the rate at which he covers his goal is a fundamental part of his game, whilst the speed of his reflexes are at times difficult to comprehend.
Standing just shy of six feet tall, his height may cause concern to goalkeeping purists. However, the explosive spring in his legs, as well as the aforementioned horizontal speed, more than compensates for his vertical shortcomings. Rather than a long, stringy frame—Thibaut Courtois stands out as the archetypal version of this—Faríñez is stocky and broad. Belying what is traditionally considered an optimal build, his combination of power and speed means that although he may lack the wing-span of a taller rival, he is far more agile and able to make up this distance with his speed on the ground before committing to an aerial dive; rather than relying on his reach to stretch for the ball, he uses his footwork to get him as close as possible. When he finally does launch himself across goal though, the hand that comes into contact with the ball is characteristically strong and robust, resulting in incomings shots being pushed away to great distances. It is fair to say that collecting crosses is the weakest part of his game—the lapses in positional awareness contribute towards just as much as his height—but he is still very capable of rising above most players to collect incoming deliveries. Once again, it is the power of the spring and thrust in his legs that enables him to do so, rather than the length of them. Should he move to Europe in the future though, the size of the opponents he is facing will increase exponentially and this could prove the biggest test of his talent.
His explosiveness also makes him is a formidable opponent in one-on-one situations. Able to close the gap between himself and the onrushing attacker quicker than most, his broader frame then allows him to still strike an imposing figure in close-quarters whilst covering the optimum shooting angles. When the shot is finally dispatched, Faríñez is always able to rely on his reflexes as a last resort; highlight-reel saves are common.
Given football’s current landscape, it is just as important to discuss a goalkeepers ability with their feet as with their hands. The fact Faríñez has spent more of his life as an outfield player than a goalkeeper seems self-explanatory. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and possesses the same jaw-dropping composure that the likes of Ederson have been lauded for recently—another goalkeeper that spent a large chunk of his formative years as an outfield player. The 19-year-old is also as varied as he is accurate with his distribution. A feature of La Vinotinto’s play at all levels is their eagerness to counter-attack after absorbing pressure—more so at senior level. This means Faríñez must be hasty with his kicking but also penetrative, and when doing so from his hands, he is exactly that.
Faríñez’s trademark, however, are his penalty saves. The Venezuelan has already made a name for himself as a penalty expert, the physical profile explained above playing a major part in doing so. Alexis Sánchez has already fallen victim to his elite reflexes on the senior international stage, whilst at U-20 level, Faríñez was the hero at the U-20 World Cup, saving two Uruguayan penalties in the shootout to send Venezuela into their first ever final.
FORECAST FOR 2018
Millionarios will provide Faríñez with the platform to develop in one of South America’s most prestigious leagues, turning out for the second most successful side in its history. Playing for a continental powerhouse also means that a prolonged Copa Libertadores campaign is likely, giving the Venezuelan stopper another opportunity to accelerate the growth of his already burgeoning reputation. Benfica have been touted as the most likely next step given their extensive scouting network in South America, although reports they were part of his move to Millionarios was denied. Should a move to Portugal materialise, however, their reputation for developing top-quality goalkeepers suggest it would be an excellent step to make within the next two years. Should he succeed in Portugal, then a return to Real Madrid’s Valdebebas complex could well be on the cards… they may even have to extend the training sessions beyond half-an-hour this time.
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