The position of the goalkeeper is one rarely entrusted to youngsters. Unique in its all-or-nothing demands, where one mistake can be the difference between defeat and victory, the responsibility tends to fall to a grizzled veteran. So when you see a young keeper between the sticks, it’s usually worth sitting up and taking notice.
Number one for his club by 17 and a senior international debut not long after his 18th birthday, Wuilker Faríñez, most certainly fits into that category.
While Venezuela may not be traditionally known for their footballing prowess, Faríñez is at the head of the most promising generation the country has ever produced and starred for the Vinotinto side that caught the eye at the U20 World Cup earlier this year. Although they fell short at the final hurdle, losing to 1-0 England, their custodian impressed throughout, conceding only three times in seven games, as well as going on an unbeaten stretch of 506 minutes.
Faríñez has already grown accustomed to breaking records from a young age. As a 17-year-old the Caracas FC youngster set a club record for the longest consecutive run (689 minutes) without conceding and he became the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet for Venezuela at just 18 years and 3 months. Faríñez would go to be the youngest goalkeeper to play in a World Cup qualifier for Venezuela and even became the first goalkeeper to score at a U20 World Cup, scoring a penalty in a 7-0 rout of Vanuatu.
All of this is even more impressive when you consider that he only converted to a keeper at the age of 14, previously having played up front as a striker. Just five years later and he has already amassed over 70 appearances for Caracas, been capped four times by the national team and was named as the best goalkeeper in the Primera Division in 2016.
Faríñez may still be a teenager but he has already developed a reputation for being something of a penalty stopping expert. As well as his heroics against Uruguay in the U20 World Cup semi-final, his most famous save to date came against Alexis Sanchez in a World Cup qualifier against Chile. Diving low down to his right, Faríñez managed to stick out a strong right hand to keep the prolific Chilean out, displaying his quick reactions and powerful spring that make him so good in one-on-one situations.
Speaking to Fifa.com about the Sanchez penalty, Faríñez said: “It was a tough moment but I was ready for it. I analysed all the variables: the player, how he set himself up and what the coach had told me. I waited until the very last moment.”
One of Faríñez’s best attributes is his excellent reflexes. The Venezuelan shotstopper possesses razor-sharp instincts, allowing him to pull off impressive saves from close range. Faríñez may not be the tallest at 5’11 but the aforementioned spring in his powerful legs combined with his reflexes make up for any lack of height.
These reflexes also come into play when making double saves. Faríñez is quick to get back to his feet and get into position to give himself the best chance to keep out the rebound.
In the modern era goalkeeping is not just about handling but also how they use the ball and another impressive element of Faríñez’s game is his distribution. Particularly when kicking the ball out of his hands, Faríñez has the accuracy and distance to consistently find teammates and retain possession high up the pitch. This could be seen for Venezuela U20s when he would often look to hit tall wide forwards such as Adalberto Peñaranda, Sergio Cordova or Ronaldo Peña. Maybe his time as a striker in his youth has honed his technique and allowed him to add this facet to his game.
SHOT STOPPING & AGILITY
As well as his reflexes, Faríñez is a very agile keeper, capable of making eye-catching saves. The 19-year-old can often be seen flying through the air and using his strength to usually pushes the ball well out to safety. His quick footwork means he can get across his goalmouth into position before launching himself towards the incoming shot.
Generally speaking Faríñez’s positioning is good. He is quick off his line to sweep up behind his defence or to close down the opposition in one-on-one situations. His lack of height has been previously highlighted as a potential issue but he has a muscular frame and when forwards are bearing down on goal he does well to stay big, minimalise the angle and smother attempts, as the video below demonstrates.
However, one quirk of his game is that on set pieces he occasionally leaves his near post exposed. There were a couple of examples at the U20 World Cup where players tried their luck and, although the attempts were all ultimately unsuccessful, it nevertheless shows an area that could cause problems in the future.
It’s possible that it could be a ploy to tempt opponents into a shot when the cross is actually the better option. Or perhaps it is a necessary gamble by Faríñez in order to deal with crosses because of his lack of height? His speed across his goal-line, reflexes and agility mean that he wasn’t caught out but he may come back to bite him if he’s not careful.
It’s clear that Faríñez is set for a big future in the game. The national team boss Rafael Dudamel – himself a goal-scoring goalkeeper in his prime – has said that he sees him as an important player for the next 20 years and it won’t be long before Faríñez is the Vinotinto’s undisputed number one. There will be healthy competition from the talented Jose Contreras, only 22 himself, but Faríñez looks set to be a key player as Venezuela set themselves the realistic ambition of finally qualifying for a first World Cup. 2018 is out of the question but at 2022 and 2026 we could see Venezuela and Faríñez there.
As for club football, there is no rush for a player so young, especially when he is getting plenty of game time. However, it is somewhat surprising that Faríñez hasn’t been linked to more clubs given his starring role at the U20 World Cup. Benfica are pretty much the only ones mentioned in the rumour mill but expect many others to be monitoring him. His height might be a barrier to becoming a regular at an elite level European club but certainly you’d think that a move within South America to one of the continent’s powerhouses should be a strong possibility in the next year or two and would be a good stepping stone for the progression of a really exciting young keeper.