Fariñez to RC Lens – Why It’s Exciting

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

Recent news has revealed a very exciting move for la Vinotinto’s top goalkeeper, Wuilker Fariñez. The Caracas-born keeper joined Millonarios in 2018, following his heroics throughout the 2017 U20 World Cup and a series of senior team appearances, immediately announcing himself to the Colombian game. He made his debut in a pair of appearances against Atlético Nacional in the Superliga Colombiana, which he won. 

Since then, he’s been a constant face in the Millonarios lineup, in addition to Venezuela’s. The 22 year old’s roots in Caracas should not be forgotten. He played with Caracas FC at the youth and senior levels, making his name early in FutVe as a shot stopper. Further details on his skills can be seen in the Solovenex montage below.

Now, however, Fariñez is set to finally show his skills in Europe with the announcement of a move to RC Lens, who were promoted to Ligue 1 in the 2019-20 season. Lens were in second place with 53 points in Ligue 2 when French football chose to end their seasons early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They return to the top tier of France after being relegated down to Ligue 2 in the 2014-15 season. The club had the least losses in Ligue 2 after 28 games with five, three less than first place Lorient.

Fariñez move marks yet another key figure from the 2017 U20 World Cup run being rewarded for their efforts, as he joins the likes of Yangel Herrera, Samuel Sosa, Sergio Córdova, and Adalberto Peñaranda in the ranks of Europe. Fariñez has been rumored for quite some time with connections to Europe, with many wondering why he was still in Colombia despite already being one of la Vinotinto’s most important players.

Lens supporters showing their passion. Photo courtesy of RC Lens.

All of this being said, I’d like to look through the potentials of this move and give my thoughts on what it could mean for Fariñez.

For better or for worse, there is a certain status given to playing in certain parts of the world. Colombia, and certainly Venezuela, do not fit into that view of the great leagues of the world. These days even Brazil and Argentina struggle to stay high on that list for some, especially those unfamiliar with South America.

Wuilker Fariñez is, and has been for some time, one of Venezuela’s biggest talents. We have good forwards. We have good midfielders. We have good defenders. We have a supernatural goalkeeper. You cannot train reflexes like those shown in Fariñez’ various famous triple saves, like the one against Atlético Nacional in the above highlight reel. There is rarely game where la Vinotinto are not saved and improved by his presence and it’s easy to understand how the 22 year old is an automatic addition to the starting eleven.

The stats are not unkind either. In his 22 appearances for la Vinotinto, he’s kept eleven clean sheets. His defensive record expands to the Copa Liberatdores and Copa Sudamericana, where he’s shined for both Millonarios and Caracas. All in all, Fariñez has almost 200 professional club appearances between his two homes, impressing at both.

Despite the obvious talent, Fariñez’ lack of European adventures has left his career seeming less eventful in comparison to his many compatriots. How do outfield players still finding their footing manage to find homes in Germany, Spain, and England while an obvious star waits in the wings?

Now he’s finally off to France, seemingly with first team Ligue 1 football in his grasp. It’s a major jump for the Venezuelan spider and likely to prove a challenge. He’ll have to contend with the top clubs of France for points, and likely survival. PSG, Lyon, and Marseille are, to be frank, an utterly different animal compared to most of what Fariñez has faced at the club level. As part of a newly promoted club, the Venezuelan keeper will be asked to take on a huge task. That said, I think there’s no better challenge for a player who has been underestimated and undervalued for so long.

Improved quality of opposition and a vast new world of coaches, teammates, and influences would have a major impact on any player. For someone like Fariñez, who is already a starlet at 22, they could be the key to greatness.

With the remainder of their offseason work still unclear, it’d be fair to say Lens shouldn’t be expected to finish especially high on the Ligue 1 table, though given their strong Ligue 2 season and their apparent intelligence in finding strong hidden gems in the offseason, I’m beginning to feel they’re set to avoid relegation back to Ligue 2. One decent season with Lens could do wonders for Fariñez’ stock in the transfer market. I believe that “decent” season is very much in the cards. I expect Fariñez to impress, especially in the context of a young keeper making his European debut, and I expect that Lens will manage to lock in Ligue 1 football for the 2021-22 season.

This move, one which almost happened a year ago, will prove a vital step in the career of one of the most important active Venezuelan footballers today. It will be the year that Wuilker Fariñez man stops existing only in the bubble of South American football writers and fans. It will be the year he joins the likes of Herrera, Rincón, Chancellor, Osorio, and Machís as ambassadors of Venezuelan quality in Europe. Folks, it’s going to be quite the year.

I might be wrong, but probably not.

My Kits – Venezuela (2015-2018)

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

My kit collection is small, at least compared to some you’ll find in the closets of other football writers, or even just other football fans. That being said, the small collection contains immense importance for me. Without a doubt, my Venezuela kit is the core of the collection. The top, featuring the wine-like color that gives the team its nickname of “la Vinotinto” and a neon yellow trim, is my only national team top of any sort. It was used, from what I can recall, from 2015 to 2018.

Salomón Rondón celebrates his goal against Uruguay in 2016. Photo courtesy of the Venezuelan National Team.

The top was my first football top ever, aside from a few I used playing as a kid. By the time I got it, I had seen it used to bring glory in the Copa América Centenario in 2016 and the 2017 U20 World Cup. I had seen Salomòn Rondón score off a crazy rebound to beat Uruguay, Sergio Córdova slide one past Mexico, and Samuel Sosa curl in a dream of a free kick in the U20 World Cup semi-finals. I began to wear it regularly on my college campus, taking good care of it and ensuring it avoided even the slightest stain.

In many ways, the top represents the birth of my love for la Vinotinto, which was utterly reforged from a slow burn into a raging fire over the course of 2016 and 2017. The shirt allowed me to wear my pride in a way I’d never really experienced, and while most people were unable to identify its origin upon meeting me, I enjoyed explaining the top and la Vinotinto to them every single time.

The top is unfortunately associated with Venezuela’s troubled campaign to qualify. for the 2018 World Cup, but I never let that stop me from loving it. I saw Venezuela make U20 history in this shirt. I saw my favorite players score in this shirt. I saw the top teams, both U20 and senior, fail to defeat this shirt.

The shirt is my only current Adidas top, though I’m sure that will eventually change. While the white stripes that came before this version of the kit were probably a better color combination, I found myself loving the silliness of the neon yellow (or perhaps neon green?) stripes and trim that adorn the top. There’s something utterly fun about, something senseless. It reminds me how senseless it is to support this national team that all too often is the underdog and all too often seems doomed to stay the underdog. I don’t mind the losses. I don’t mind the neon trim. It’s perfect. It’s my team.

Me wearing the top, under several layers, at a very snowy Minnesota United match.

Perhaps the point of this entry, my brief love letter to this kit, is to embrace tops that mean something to you on a deep level. You can buy a dozen fun designs, but the kit that warms your heart is always going to be your favorite. Don’t be afraid of your kit being low on clout, or lacking the stars of a century of victories, just buy the shirt that matters to you.

If there’s anything I can ask of the reader, it’s to post your own kit stories, whether that be on a post relating to this article or just on your own.

Venezuelans Abroad (of the Week) – November 18th – 24th

Yeferson Soteldo: Santos 4-1 Cruzeiro

Coming off of his first goal for la Vinotinto, Soteldo has continued an amazing form at Santos, scoring yet another goal this week. It’s his fifth goal in his last five league appearances.

The Venezuelan may be known best for his height, but his tricky feet are becoming a must for Santos, even earning the attention of Pelé himself.

Sergio Cordova: Augsburg 4-0 Hertha Berlin

It may have been a strong tap in after a teammate was tackled off the ball by Hertha’s keeper, but Cordova still grabbed a goal in his first start in months for Augsburg. The side would go on to win 4-0 to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.

Andres Ponce: Akhmat 2-1 Orenburg

Ponce scored a penalty and his third goal of the season to help Akhmat to a 2-1 win over Orenburg, a vital win as his side seek to escape relegation. Fellow Venezuelan Wilker Angel started the game as well and played the full 90 minutes while Ponce was subbed off in the 89th.

Venezuelans Abroad (of the Week) – October 28th to November 3rd

Hello and welcome to a new series I’ll be running on my website. This blog will look to highlight my top three or four performers amongst Venezuelans playing (football) outside of Venezuela, with a particular focus on those within la Vinotinto’s roster.

Players listed are just a reflection from what I saw and noticed that week and there will surely be times where I brutally miss good options. Players are not listed in a particularly order of importance, though my actual writing may project which I feel had the best weekend.

If you enjoy the series, keep an eye for it every week, likely on Mondays or Tuesdays once the most recent round of matches is over.

Jhonder Cadiz: Dijon 2-1 PSG

Cadiz’ loan to a Dijon side that has struggled to get out of the relegation zone in Ligue 1 this season was met with mixed reactions when it took place late this summer. The prospect of playing in Ligue 1 is far from beneath Cadiz’ progressing career, but many had hoped the Venezuelan would play for Benfica, who bought him at the beginning of that same off season.

He’s picked up minutes slowly at Dijon, getting his first start in a 2-0 loss to Bordeaux in Coupe de la Ligue, but his first league start would be his best minutes for the club yet. Set loose against French titans PSG, Cadiz’ 47th minute goal would prove the key to Dijon earning their first ever league victory against PSG.

It’s still very unclear what club or country Cadiz’ future will send him to, but topping his first big start with a big goal to left some of the tensions at Dijon will surely be a diamond for his resume.

Yordan Osorio: Zenit 4-0 Tomsk

Osorio notched 90 more minutes and his second Russian Cup victory for Zenit midweek as they beat 2nd tier Tomsk 4-0 in the Round of 16. Zenit, who are favorites to win both of Russia’s domestic trophies at their current pace, have found uses for Osorio despite depth in defensive positions.

The Venezuelan, on loan from FC Porto, has managed a Champions League start (1-1 against Lyon), along with two positive CL substitute appearances and one league appearance in a 3-1 win over Ural. His performance against Tomsk was highlighted by his 100% passing accuracy, with all 77 of his paces meeting their mark.

Osorio will have to fight hard to get a consistent spot in a squad full of the Russian Premier League’s best, but he’s still managed to leave a mark on the squad with months of time left to do more. If all stays the same, the Venezuelan will likely leave Russia with a winners medal of some sort, whether he stays with Zenit long term or wins his way into the Porto 18.

Ronald Hernandez: Stabæk 2-0 Ranheim

Ronald Hernandez played the full 90 minutes in another strong result for Stabæk in Norway, who now rest in 10th place with 33 points in 27 games. It was the club’s 9th clean sheet of the season, earned despite Ranheim holding 50% of the possession and taking nine shots. Hernandez had a 76% pass accuracy rate on the day, out of 42 passes.

Having barely avoided relegation the previous season, Stabæk have started to grow this season and instead look set to be a mid table club. This will be a huge upgrade for Hernandez, who would surely look for a new club if the Norwegians were to be relegated. Having joined from Zamora in 2017, Hernandez is quietly becoming a strong defensive option for Venezuela, for whom he’s recently been a preferred fullback.

Yeferson Soteldo: Santos 1-0 Bahia, Santos 4-1 Botafogo

Soteldo played close to 180 minutes over Santos’ two wins in the Brazilian top division this week, beating both Bahia and Botafogo to help keep Pelé’s club in third place with a spot in the Copa Libertadores firmly in their grasp. Soteldo managed a brace against Botafogo, scoring in the 68th and 69th minutes.

The first goal against Botafogo came via a series of combination plays by the Santos front line. Soteldo proved the last piece and struck the ball well from near the penalty spot. The second goal was a classic one for the Venezuela, who cut in to the right and curved a beautiful shot into the far corner of the goal from the edge of the box.

Despite not scoring or assisting particularly often, the forward has been a shining player for Santos all season. He has six goals and two assists, but most importantly has won a spot as an instant starter for the club for his work outside of the goal scoring stats.

Soteldo’s future is the topic of heavy speculation within and outside of the Venezuelan footballing world, with many assuming a trip to Europe is in the cards, but the player has made the most of his stay in South America. While his time in Chile brought ups and downs, the player often noted for his short size has become a giant prospect and a must have for la Vinotinto’s match day squad.