The Story of Mexico's Carlos Vela

Mexico’s prodigal son, who has impressed overseas in Spain, doesn’t want to come home
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, February 01, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Carlos Vela was once the poster-child for Mexico’s first Golden Generation. A U-17 World Cup winner alongside the likes of Gio dos Santos and Hector Moreno, Vela earned a transfer to Arsenal at just 16 years old. Since then he’s had a bumpy road, but he’s finally established himself as a solid regular at a decent La Liga side.

Bumps in the road

After his transfer to Arsenal, Vela was loaned to clubs in Spain’s first and second divisions because he was ineligible to play in England until he turned 18. Vela has impressed in patches and at times has shown world class talent – bicycle kick goals, multiple goal games in the Champions League and a scores against Barcelona are all on his list of achievements. However, the young Mexican forward has lacked consistency until his transfer to Real Sociedad.

Not only has the stability of Real Sociedad allowed Vela to perform dependably, it may also have given him a new home. Social media in Mexico were incensed last fall when Vela spoke with a distinctive Spanish accent during a press conference. This alone wouldn’t have stirred up so much excitement, but piling on the back of past conflicts with the national team, the accent incident caused some zealous fans to question his patriotism to Mexico let alone his loyalty to El Tri.

Vela has put in tremendous performances for the national team in the past, such as being the catalyst for a second half 5-0 steam-rolling of the U.S. in the 2009 Gold Cup Final. He parlayed this turnout into an inclusion in the 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa. Since that point, his relationship with the national team has been strained at best.

Friction with the national team

Following a friendly win against Colombia on Sept. 8, 2010, reports allege that Vela and teammate Efraín Juárez orchestrated a party that included drinking, gambling and up to a dozen prostitutes. For his role in the merry-making mayhem, Vela was given a 6-month ban from the national team making the forward ineligible for call-ups until March 2011.

When he was invited again in Feb. 2012, Vela asked that he not be considered for national team selection for a friendly against Colombia due to “personal issues.” He followed this up by removing himself from the national team picture for the summer of 2012 to ensure a full transfer away from Arsenal and to make sure he was fit to start the new season.

At the time, Vela said he didn’t have a problem with anybody involved with the national team, trying to squash the rumors of a rift between himself and national team manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. As a response, Chepo said, and I’ll translate:

“En la Selección Nacional, en todas las categorías, queremos gente comprometida, pero todos, y repito, todos tienen derecho a anteponer situaciones de tipo personal.”

“In the national teams, at all levels, we want committed people, but everyone, and I repeat, everyone has the right to put personal circumstances first.”

Vela forewent inclusion in the Olympic squad to avoid injury or fitness concerns and to have a chance for a full preseason with his new team, Real Sociedad, for which he signed a permanent deal in July. His absence allowed Club América striker Raúl Jiménez to make his case for inclusion in the senior national team.

Jiménez typically plays as a supporting striker, meaning he opts to find a teammate in a better position inside the area rather than take lower percentage shots. This type of player could fit well into Chepo’s 4-4-2 alongside Chincharito and was called into the squad for the recent 1-1 draw with Denmark. Quality performances from Jiménez could quickly move the young América forward up the pecking order for the national team.

Saying no again

And yet Vela’s decision to skip the Olympics has seemed to pay off for him. Playing mostly on the right side of a 4-2-3-1, Vela has racked up 8 goals and 4 assists in 20 games for Real Sociedad. Vela has also played on the left wing and up top in the 4-2-3-1 formation that is similar to the tactical setup for the Mexican national team.

If ever there was a time for Chepo de la Torre to bring Vela back into the fold, it is now. Vela could provide multiple attacking options during Mexico’s packed schedule in 2013, which includes World Cup Qualifying, the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup. With Pablo Barrera still months away from recovery from an ACL injury, the right attacking midfield position is up for grabs. Vela could have easily laid claim to that spot, perhaps for good. He could have.

Vela has once again declined a call-up to the national team. He told media during a press conference with Real Sociedad that not many people would understand his reasons but that he hoped they would accept his decision. He said he had personal motivations not to accept the call for the World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica on February 6.

It would be odd if Vela didn’t want to play in the World Cup in Brazil next year and he must know that he has a legitimate chance of playing himself into the starting lineup for the national team if they qualify. While it is certainly worrisome for fans that the one-time Chivas prospect has turned his back on El Tri again, there are many more opportunities to reconcile the relationship this year.

When the next set of World Cup Qualifiers comes around on March 22 and 26, many Mexicans will still want Vela included in the team despite his history. Barring injury, Vela has the talent and skill to start for the national team. Fans and observers have to be wondering if Chepo de la Torre will try to bring the forward into the team again in March and if he does, will Vela accept the call?

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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