With his move to LAFC about to be completed, I thought this would be a good time to look back at Vela’s time in Europe. I asked one of the managers of The Short Fuse, Paul DeBruler, for his take on Vela’s time with Arsenal.
The 2005 U17 World Cup was Vela’s coming out party. The same tournament Chicharito missed due to injury but I hear his career turned out alright. The kid from Cancun led the tournament with 5 goals, capturing the Golden Boot award and helping Mexico earn their first U17 World Cup title. Carlos dedicated the award to his father since it was on his birthday that Mexico won the tournament. He was considered a hot commodity after the tournament and several European clubs were rumored to be after him. Arsenal beat the others and bought Vela’s rights for an initial fee of around $235,000 with add-ons that brought the fee up to over $1mil if he were to play 50 games with Arsenal.
"I like his intelligence and his pace. He scores goals but he can also create them. He's a special talent and I believe 100 per cent that he will make it at the highest level."
- Arsene Wenger
Due to the work permit rules of England, Arsenal could not play Vela until he was able to acquire one. Until then, the club sent him on loans to Spain. His first season long loan away from the club had him at Salamanca in the second division of Spain for the 2006-2007 season. The teenager flourished for his loan club. Vela scored 8 goals and assisted on another 15. He was involved in 23 of the club’s 53 goals, as a 17 year old. After his loan, Wenger was quoted as saying, "I like his intelligence and his pace. He scores goals but he can also create them. He's a special talent and I believe 100 per cent that he will make it at the highest level."
His success in Spain’s 2nd division provided Arsenal with a few suitors in La Liga once it was known he would still have to wait to acquire a work permit. Eventually, Arsenal loaned him out to Osasuna for the 2007-2008 season. Vela showed he was up to play in Spain’s first division, contributing 3 goals and 4 assists in 33 appearances as a teenager. He also made his senior debut with the Mexican national team in September 2007 and scored his first goal with El Tri in October 2007 against Guatemala.
His Work Permit finally came in May 2008 with Wenger saying he would be involved with the first team and calling him a “great young player.” In his first competitive start for Arsenal, Vela had a hat trick in a Carling Cup game versus Sheffield United. The Chivas product also added an assist in the game, making him involved in 4 of the 6 goals Arsenal scored that day.
At the time of the hat trick, Vela was still just 19 years old. Many fans, including The Short Fuse’s own Paul DeBruler, thought Vela could settle in and become an Arsenal stalwart as he grew and developed. The rest of the season saw Vela earn cup minutes and 2 EPL starts. Overall, he accumulated 1,190 minutes across all competitions with 6 goals and 4 assists.
“He can give a final ball and he can finish very well. He’s so calm in front of goal and that always gives you a smile. He’s never in any stress.”
- Arsene Wenger
Heading into the 2009-10 season, it was expected he would see more league minutes but fate would not be on his side. During the 2009 Gold Cup, Vela suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss Arsenal’s pre-season and the beginning of the season. He suffered the injury early in the tournament but played by taking shots to lessen the pain. Vela did score in the final against the US but was out of action until late September for Arsenal. He was never able to get into Arsene’s rotation and only saw 225 league minutes spread out over 11 appearances. Vela finished the season with 2 goals and 3 assists in 742 minutes.
The 2010-11 season was more of the same, Vela struggled to get any meaningful playing time. Ultimately, he played his final game for Arsenal on 1/12/2011 in a league cup match against Ipswich. He came on for the final 10 minute as Arsenal lost.
He went to West Bromwich on loan for the second half of the season, accumulating 2 goals and an assist in 318 Premier League minutes.
Why wasn’t Vela able to establish himself at Arsenal?
Paul DeBruler doesn’t think it was ever a question of talent but rather a case where the stars did not line up for him, at all. “Basically, most of his Arsenal career was the victim of bad timing - between the work permit problems and the injury/rise of van Persie, Vela didn't get as much of a chance as I think we all wish he would have.”
Real Sociedad has been Vela’s club since going on loan in the summer of 2011. He developed into an impact player. By February 2012, Vela made it clear he was happy where he was and did not want to go back to Arsenal. He totaled 12 goals and 7 assists in his first season in San Sebastian, teaming up with Antoine Griezmann.
Arsenal transferred his rights in the summer of 2012 for £2.5m but included a buyback clause that they would leverage to get another £12m two years later. Smart business for Arsene but what did fans think of his time there? Do they consider him a bust or the one that got away?
Neither? I mean, I think overall, Arsenal fans remember him fairly fondly, but I don't think there's either anger at his shortcomings (because there weren't many) or wistfulness at what they lost (because we didn't get much of a chance to see what we were losing before he left). - Paul DeBruler
His sophomore season at Sociedad was even better. The 23 year old finished the season as the 9th highest rated player in La Liga (just ahead of Mesut Ozil), per WhoScored. Also, he was 9th in goals scored (14 goals) and 8th in assists (9 assists). Vela led Sociedad to their first Champions League berth since the 2002-03.
The 2013-14 season was the year when the Griezmann - Vela partnership reached its apex. The duo combined for 46 goals and assists with Vela accounting for 27 of them. Carlitos finished the year 7th in goals and 3rd in assists in La Liga. He was nominated for Best Striker in La Liga after the 2013-2014 season, along with Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Sociedad gave Vela an extension after the season to hold off any would-be suitors. The club was not able to hold on to their other star player and transferred Griezmann to Atletico Madrid for an estimated $35mil.
Carlos was never able to regain the level in his last 3 full season that he had reached in his first 3 in San Sebastian. He was still performing at a good level but it just never reached 2013-2014 levels. In his last 3 full seasons, Vela totaled 32 goals + assists in La Liga with his team failing to qualify for the Champions League. Many will point to the departure of Griezmann as a reason for his decreased production and its hard to argue against that point. With Griezmann gone, defenses focused in on Vela and made it a point to stop him as the Real Sociedad attack relied heavily on him creating chances from the wing.
Carlos Vela's final goal with Real Sociedad. What a way to go out pic.twitter.com/UZcF4qhQcA— Leo (@TrillSmith) December 20, 2017
His time at Real Sociedad is ending just like his time at Arsenal: appearances off the bench with spot starts in cup competitions. You can’t blame the club for moving on from Vela as they knew he would be leaving in January to MLS. However, it was nice to see him score a 90th minute goal in his final appearance for the club.
Carlos Vela’s Career Stats
|Competition||Games||Goals||Assists||Minutes||Mins per G+A|
|Competition||Games||Goals||Assists||Minutes||Mins per G+A|
|Copa del Rey||19||4||1||1,039||207.80|
|La Liga 2||31||8||15||2,232||97.04|
After going through his career stats, I came away with the impression that Vela has been under-rated by Mexican fans. No doubt stemming from his 3+ years away from the national team. Also, he never made his debut in LigaMX and has played his entire professional career in Europe. It is easy to overlook his accomplishments in Europe but this is a good time to see what he did over there. I could argue he is the most talented Mexican player right now but that would make what’s coming next even more painful...
No tengo palabras para agradecer todo el cariño recibido en estos años. Hoy se cierra un capitulo hermoso en mi vida y no podia tener un mejor final. Eskerrik asko eta Gora Real pic.twitter.com/D6qsGP3tJh— carlos vela (@11carlosV) December 21, 2017
Vela moving to MLS has been rumored for over a year and not many were surprised when it was finally announced. I know many of our readers are not fans of the move and have criticized Vela for “taking the easy way out.” The same criticisms thrown at the Dos Bros. I find it hard to blame him for wanting to come back to North America after playing in Europe since he was 16. But the move is definitely a downgrade in competition and it is happening in a World Cup year. Although I understand the move, I put myself in the boat with all the other fans who are disappointed he made it now. Will it back fire for Vela? Time will tell but at least we’ll always have European Vela.
Whats your favorite goal from Vela’s time in Europe?
See below for Paul’s favorite Vela goal. It was voted #29 in Arsenal’s 50 greatest goals.