The New York Red Bulls announced the signing of Wikelman Carmona, further signaling an investment in youth development as the club attempts to redefine itself as a selling club. The 17-year-old Venezuelan midfielder is a high potential prospect and reportedly had interest from several teams in Europe. He trained with Atlético Madrid for a month in the summer of 2017, making a “good impression.”
A left-footed midfielder with “a lot of magic in his boots,” Carmona hails from the state of Guárico approximately 200 kilometers south of Caracas. He joined the Academia Dynamo de Margarita residential academy in 2016, located on Margarita Island. The organization uses the “Directional Method” which has been described as “a way of living within football” and has caught the attention of the Venezuela national team. He’s highly thought of by the club and was put in charge of “swearing in” the players that participated in the 2019 Apertura State Tournament.
Sports VIP is full of effusive praise, describing Carmona as a highly technical player capable of driving runs, controlled possession, and long-distance shooting. He prefers passing to scoring but won’t be shy in the final third. The Red Bulls’ official website describes its new player as “able to play central attacking midfielder or in either of the flanks.” At Dynamo Puerto, the 17-year-old thrived in the 4-3-3 formation, but tactical preference is malleable and often only determined later in adolescence, at least according to Arsène Wenger.
After serving as the captain of the U-16 team, Carmona played with the Venezuela U-17 national team at the 2019 U-17 South American Championship. His standout performance came in a 5-3 win over Bolivia. The midfielder had a goal and an assist in 24 minutes of play, a standout match that likely convinced the Red Bulls to pursue his signature.
Despite the brief footage available, his substitute appearance against Bolivia demonstrates a clear intelligence and understanding of the game. His 70th minute goal (begins at 4:20) caught the goalkeeper out of position, as Carmona opted for a well-placed shot instead of choosing to drill the ball. The assist in the 77th minute (begins at 4:52) displays a similar feel for the game. He pounces on a loose ball off of his broken corner kick play and has the presence of mind to feint past an opponent, waiting for the perfect moment to hit his cross. There’s a lot to like from the young player, even when pulled from a single minute of video.
The move continues both the Red Bulls and Major League Soccer’s long term efforts to mine talent from the undervalued development pipelines of Venezuela, where soccer is less popular than in other South American nations. Both Carmona and Cristian Cásseres Jr are represented by T&C Sports Management, a “full service sports representation agency” based in Miami with a client list that’s a who’s who of young Venezuelan talent, including former New York reserve team fullback Edgardo Rito. If the Red Bulls are going to be a frequent customer, then the company’s social media and roster might be required reading.
This is a traditional “Red Bull” signing, acquiring a youth international on the rise, likely with the intent to sell in the future. The team has struggled with signings of this nature in the past, most recently Mathias Jørgensen, but Carmona is of a slightly higher pedigree and at a younger age than recent attempts. At 17 years old, he is capable of meeting the fitness requirements of the high press, while also possessing the creativity to make an impact in the final third.
Development is a fickle beast with a future that is far from guaranteed, but the Red Bulls appear to be making a definitive move in the direction of young talent. The reality for most of the world’s clubs is that if the acquisitions are successful, then bigger leagues will call. The best course of action is to recognize one’s place in the global market and find the best way to succeed. In the coming years, the results will be inconsistent and there will be mistakes along the way, but the sky’s the limit for on-field success and transfer market profit.