Boca Juniors and River Plate finished their first leg of the Copa Libertadores final in an exciting 2-2 draw, and now all eyes will look towards the Estadio Antonio Vespuci Liberti, where River will host Boca on November 24th for the final 90 minutes of this wonderful Superclasico. One of the main reasons for Boca’s success in both international and domestic competition is 25-year-old Colombian defensive midfielder, Wilmar Barrios.
For most fans, Barrios, who made his debut in Boca two years ago, became one of the most important players in Coach Guillermo Barros-Schelotto’s line-up. Boca’s most consistent player also had a solid performance in the first leg, including a 91.9% passing accuracy, while retrieving the ball nine times (most among all the players) and has won 10 out of his 14 individual duels. A good example for his determination and sacrifice we could also see in the Copa Libertadores quarter-final match against Cruzeiro at the Bombonera stadium. Boca was up by two goals and Cruzeiro had a great chance to score an away goal, but Barrios didn’t gave up and managed to amazingly cleared the ball from the line.
Wilmar Barrios was born in Cartagena, Colombia on October 16th, 1993. His father left him and his mother emigrated to Venezuela in order to earn more money. He grew up with his grandmother in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Colombia, called ‘La Candelaria’. “It was a very dangerous place to grow up in”, said Barrios. “There was a lot of violence, drugs and crimes. You cannot even catch a taxi because no driver wanted to get inside the neighborhood, they prefer to drive around it”. Barrios said that he decided he wants to get out of this neighborhood and tried as hard as he can to do it through football, while some of his friends turned to drugs, others found themselves in jail and just a few have decent jobs. “In order to travel to training I needed to sell juice and ice cream, otherwise I had to walk because I didn’t have enough money”, said Barrios.
In 2013, at the age of 19 he made his debut with the senior team of Deportes Tolima against Boyaca Chico. “It wasn’t the best debut. We lost 3:0 and I was sent off at the 76th minute for a double booking”, said Barrios. “But after that I got the confidence from my coach who gave me the opportunity to play in the Copa Libertadores and this was my big breakthrough”. He won the Copa Colombia 2014 with Tolima and became the captain of the team and also arguably their best player. He was chosen as the best midfielder in the league in 2015. It was just a matter of time until he received his first international call-up and offers from abroad.
While rumors linked Barrios with major Colombian clubs like Atletico Nacional and Atletico Junior, it was finally one of South America’s giants, Argentine side, Boca Juniors, who decided to buy his rights for $3M. Since he had Fernando Gago in front of him as a starter, and his co-patriot, Sebastian Perez, who plays also in the same role, Barrios took it step by step and tried to do his best whenever he entered to the game. His debut came on October 29th 2016 against Temperley, with Boca winning 4-0 and Barrios playing the last 17 minutes. The fans loved what they saw and applauded him. He continued to give everything in every match that he played, and became one of the most stable players in the team. His first year with Boca ended with the league title and with Barrios playing 19 matches and registering three assists.
Barrios received his chance in the starting lineup when Boca lost Gago due to an injury blow in October 2017, and Barrios proved that he deserved that spot. He was the “Silent Killer”, holding the defensive midfield of Boca by himself. He is not so strong physically, but very smart, intelligent, and knows how to break opponent’s attacks while also contributing to the offensive part of the team. He has a passing accuracy of 84.4% and averages 51 passes per game, among them 2.7 long balls per game. It clearly shows his ability to pass vertically, too, emphasizing his range of passing. Defensively he does a great job, as noted, with 3 tackles per game, 2.8 interceptions and 0.5 blocks. Just for comparison, he has better numbers than Tottenham’s Eric Dier.
Despite all the praise he receives, 2018 didn’t start too well for him. Barrios was on the other side of the barricade. Two women accused him and his teammate, Edwin Cardona, of sexual abuse. While the incident was under police investigation, both players were separated from Boca’s squad by coach Barros-Schelotto. Their image was hurt badly, while fans and the media criticized them. Eventually, charges were dropped because the women changed their versions of the incident. Barros-Schelotto brought them back to the squad and needed them in a good form as Boca didn’t perform well. Barrios adjusted quickly and became one of the most important players in many matches. In his second season with the team, Barrios plays a vital role in Barros-Schelotto’s formation, and helped Boca to win their second straight domestic title, playing 23 matches and scoring a single goal.
Barrios was included in Colombia's squad for the 2018 World Cup only as a rotation player, while coach Jose Pekerman preferred Carlos Sanchez in the starting line-up. But it wasn't too long until he received his chance. Carlos Sanchez was sent off in Colombia's debut match vs. Japan after only three minutes and Barrios came in from the bench. He couldn't prevent the 2-1 loss, but played very well in Colombia's 3-0 victory against Poland. In the round of 16 match vs. England, Barrios also played and was one of the best players on the field, despite the fact that his team was eliminated in penalty shoot-out.
The fans know that they won't have too much time to enjoy him. He was already linked with several European teams, Tottenham and Real Madrid among others. The strongest rumor is that Spurs will pay his buyout fee of 23 million dollars and Barrios will arrive in January. Meanwhile, Real Madrid sent staff members to Buenos Aires to set up a meeting with Boca's management regarding the issue.
"If you really want it, you will do it". It was Barrios's motto which saved his life and now the sky is the limit for him, on his way to one of the major clubs in Europe.