Yangel Herrera was born in 1998 in La Guairá, Venezuela, 19 miles from the capital of Caracas. While he is one of the most prized defensive talents in South America, baseball was his childhood pastime. At 10-years old, however, Herrera moved with his mother to Aragua de Maturin, a village in Monagas where he quickly found a passion for soccer.
Herrera calls Aragua de Maturin “a very futbolero town” adding “you live football in another way there.” The baseball-focused boy was unprepared for this cultural change. “I came a little lost from La Guairá,” is how Herrera put it.
Herrera quickly became accustomed to soccer, seeing his first competitive action at the Unión Atlético Piar school. After stellar performances with Atlético Piar, Herrera received an invitation from the Mejía School, which he promptly joined. At Mejía, he began participating in interregional tournaments.
Although Herrera is now a defender, he began his career as an attacker. This shift was slow, albeit natural. As Herrera explained, “little by little I was developing myself like a defensive midfielder.”
At a mere 15 years old, Herrera moved to Monagas to both play for the National under-18 squad and to train with the second division Monagas Sport Club. At 16, he began competing with Monagas, playing a major role in the club’s eventual promotion to the Primera Divisíon, Venezuela’s top flight. Herrera scored two goals in the club’s promotion-securing victory over JBL Zulia.
Herrera has said that the role he played in Monagas’ promotion was “one of the most beautiful l things I’ve achieved in my career.” He is grateful for the support he has received from Monagas fans, explaining “they still write me and give me good advice,” adding “they are unconditional support.”
Herrera left Monagas to join Atlético Venezuela in 2016. He made 32 appearances in his one year with Atlético — in which he scored 3 goals — helping the club reach the national semifinals.
When contacted by Hudson River Blue, the club had exclusively good things to say about their former star: Atlético President Rubén Villavicencio raved about Herrera, telling us that "to talk about Yangel Herrera means to talk about a player that in spite of his youth, presents amazing qualities both professionally and personally,” adding “he’s been an inspiration for many and today he is the role model for all our formative categories, proving that with lots of work, effort, dedication and sacrifice, dreams and targets can be achieved.”
Villavicencio continued to to praise the 19-year old, telling Hudson River Blue that “He truly is the role model of what we want to achieve in most soccer in Venezuela; to educate a complete soccer player.”
Herrera has been a youth star, as he captained the nation’s under-20 side to third place in the South American championship. He has also made one appearance for the senior Venezuelan national team, coming on as a substitute in the nation’s 2-0 loss to Brazil.
When asked about this appearance, Herrera said, “I am very happy and very happy for this moment that I am living, to be part of the Selección, it is something I had dreamed of.”
He was also a member of the nation’s Copa America squad, although he did not make an appearance.
Herrera is not only a club star, but a representative of the nation’s soccer infrastructure — much like the U.S.’s Christian Pulisic. Both players serve as ambassador’s of their respective football federations.
Villavicencio indicated as much to Hudson River Blue:
“I can only praise Yangel. I wish him all the best. We (will) keep an eye on his career because he makes us proud; not only in Atlético Venezuela but the entire Venezuelan soccer, because we are certain that our National Men’s team has an important figure for the next decade."
Atlético announced on January 31st that Herrera had been transferred to Manchester City, tweeting “"IT'S OFFICIAL! Yangel Herrera has moved to Manchester City of England. The holding midfielder will make the leap to one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Great!"
¡ES OFICIAL! Yangel Herrera se va traspasado al Manchester City de Inglaterra. El volante da el salto a un grande de Europa. ¡Grande! pic.twitter.com/c8oHnbsqMi— Atlético VenezuelaCF (@AtleticoVzla) January 31, 2017
Although the club reported a transfer to Manchester City, Herrera was reportedly always destined for a year in either New York or Melbourne. While the details remain uncertain, reports say that the transfer fee was likely around £2 million; just about $2,479,800.
Although he will spend a year in New York, Herrera is undoubtedly destined for a future in England, as he signed a 4-year deal with Manchester City. His current stint in New York was catalyzed by both immigration difficulties and soccer strategy.
It terms of immigration, it would have been nearly impossible for Herrera to secure a United Kingdom work permit in time to compete with Manchester City. Furthermore, Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola made it clear that he was content with his squad ahead of the transfer deadline. City wasn’t expected to make a single deal at the deadline; Herrera’s signing was a surprise. Herrera was therefore transferred to NYCFC to hone his talents under Patrick Vieira, and alongside David Villa and Andrea Pirlo rather than sit on a bench in England.
Herrera himself appears to be content with the move, as he told Spanish outlet AS:
“When I was told I was coming here, my first thoughts were that I would be with Andrea (Pirlo) and David (Villa). For me it is an honor to belong to the same club as them; and also with coach Patrick (Vieira). Learning day by day from them will be fundamental in my career."
For Herrera, New York is a chance to simultaneously learn from the greats and get significant playing time. New York is short-term stop in what promises to be a long-term career, as the soccer world sees Herrera as a rising star.
Atlético President Rubén Villavicencio put it simply, telling Hudson River Blue “we had it clear since we brought him to Atlético Venezuela, what his destiny could be,” adding “he’s limitless. Even when he’s taken a big leap already, I believe that there’s still a lot we will see in him in the future.”
New York City appears to have captured a rising star in the midst of his ascendance, as Herrera, a holding midfielder who doubles as a center half, will likely only be with NYCFC for one year before he jumps across the pond.
It is currently unclear how the young star factors into Patrick Vieira’s plans. Although his talent is undeniable, it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll secure a starting spot, considering he would have to displace Maxi Moralez, Andrea Pirlo, or Alexander Ring.
Herrera will therefore likely remain Vieira’s go-to midfield sub — a spot in which he should receive substantial minutes. As the season continues and he begins to gain his footing, however, he has the potential to secure more consequential playing time, particularly in case of an injury.
From a business perspective, Vieira may look to play Herrera in order to satisfy his bosses at City Football Group. Herrera is their long-term investment — one which they expect to eventually pay off in Manchester. The first step in Herrera’s development under the City Football Group umbrella, it appears, would be meaningful minutes with New York.
The outlook here in the Five Boroughs is that Herrera is one-year acquisition who could play a pivotal role in a potential title run, especially considering the wear and tear of a full season on the old legs of Andrea Pirlo.
For Manchester City, Herrera is a long-term investment with a well of potential which the bosses upstairs will expect Patrick Vieira to cultivate.