17th July, 2008 –
“I have been waiting three years for this moment and now I am here I will work very hard to earn my place in the first-team and I hope to be at this club for a very long time.”
7th February, 2012 –
“I don’t want to return to Arsenal. I have asked my agent to negotiate with Arsenal to stay here.“
A journey that started with great expectation and excitement has ended with almost a feeling of relief, for Carlos Vela that is. While, seven years of build-up has ended with a whimper for Arsenal.
Carlos Alberto Vela Garrido rose to prominence during the 2005 U-17 world cup, as an extremely talented Mexican side lifted the trophy. Jesus Ramirez’s side decimated Netherlands 4-0 in the semi-final and cruised past Brazil, 3-0, in the final. Carlos Vela won the golden shoe award for the five glittering goals that he scored in the tournament. In a very emotional moment, he dedicated his award and victory to his father – “I dedicate my goal tonight, and the trophy, to my father, because it’s his birthday this evening”.
Soon after this tournament, Arsenal won the race to sign this promising young kid from Cancún. But Vela had to wait for three long years to get his name up in the Gunner team sheet. Due to work permit rules in England, he was loaned out to three different Spanish teams in three years.
Finally, on 30 August 2008, Carlos Vela made his debut for Arsenal as he came on as a substitute in a match against Newcastle. It all started quite well for the young Mexican as he was justifying the hype that surrounded him. The fans had to wait for three years to see the man who lit up the 2005 U-17 world cup in Peru.
In one of the most memorable performances and perhaps his best in an Arsenal shirt, Carlos Vela scored a wonderful hat-trick against Sheffield United in the League Cup. Arsenal won the match 6-0. Each goal was a master piece and the second goal where he deliciously chipped Paddy Kenny had class written all over it. It was also voted in the top 50 goals of Arsenal by the fans. ‘That’ chip was only the beginning.
In the three and a half season that Vela played for Arsenal (rest were all loan spells), the Mexican has scored only 11 goals, but perhaps more importantly, every Gooner remembers all of those 11. He got his chance in the team rarely, and in among those appearances very rarely did he score goals, but when he did, he made sure those were unforgettable. Carlos Vela ‘chipped’ his way into the heart of the fans. Talent was something he certainly didn’t lack.
So how did such a prodigiously talented player fail to reach his true potential at a club such as Arsenal, under a manager such as Wenger?
It all went wrong from the very first day itself. He never got the chance to settle in England in the first place. He was immediately loaned out to Celta Vigo, where even more frustratingly, he didn’t even make a single appearance for the club. Two more season of Spanish football followed with spells at Salamanca and Osasuna.
Carlos Vela was physically not strong enough to play in England; in order to succeed in the premier league, he needed to grow stronger. Instead he spent his ‘growing up days’ in Spain, in a league that is completely different to what England has to offer. He naturally adapted to Spanish football and it was hard for him to feel at home in English football when he returned.
Injuries played a big part as well. He never really experienced a long uninterrupted spell at Arsenal, either in reserves or in the first team.
Perhaps the most important reason behind him not achieving his true potential was the tactical change that Arsenal underwent from the time he was at the club to time he actually started playing.
In 2005, when Wenger signed Vela, Arsenal were still using the 4-4-2 formation with minimal variation. Vela was a perfect fit for 4-4-2 formation; his natural attributes made him a potent ‘second’ striker. But by the time Vela returned to London, Arsenal was on the verge of a tactical evolution.
By the 2009/2010 season, Arsene Wenger has changed his tactics from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. Robin Van Persie/Eduardo was played up top; Bendtner/Walcott on the right and Arshavin/Nasri on the left shared the load of striking responsibilities.
Carlos Vela couldn’t lead the line due to his lack of strength, hence there was no place for him in the center of the attack. Hence he was forced out wide. But Vela was not a natural wide player. In his national team, Vela played through the center while his long-term ‘partner in crime’ (since the days of U-17), Giovani dos Santos was usually the one who drifted wide.
Arsene Wenger, who had earlier successfully converted someone like Thierry Henry from a winger to a forward, has in recent times failed with his effort to change natural center forwards to wide forwards; another sufferer of such attempts was Nicolas Bendtner.
At just the age of 23, Carlos Vela has already appeared for seven different clubs! That’s how unsettling his career has been so far.
Spanish football suits Vela more than English football ever did. He had a good spell at Real Sociedad last season, scoring some wonderful goals that we know he is capable of. Finally it seemed that the Mexican has began to settle down.
The Gooners would be sad that a player with such immense talent has left the club before doing justice to his promise, but deep down they would also be happy that finally Vela might have found a place where he can settle down and fulfill his potential.
Carlos Vela will always be remembered by Arsenal faithful as the epitome of ‘What ifs’.