Carlos Vela

Club: Los Angeles FC

Country: Mexico

Carlos Vela drew international attention as top scorer for Mexico when they won the 2005 U17 World Cup. Big European clubs were interested, but it was Arsenal who pounced. The move was also controversial, a clear contravention of FIFA’s ban on international trading of players under the age of 18. Arsenal promptly sent Vela to Spain for a series of loan spells – Salamanca, Osasuna and eventually Real Sociedad, who went on to sign him permanently in 2012.

During Vela’s five years in San Sebastian, he scored 73 goals in 250 games. What marked the left-footed Vela as special was that many of the goals were gems of football artistry – exquisitely-timed chips over the goalkeeper were a favourite. He was twice voted Sociedad’s Player Of The Year.

Carlos Vela #10 of Los Angeles FC celebrates his goal against Inter Miami CF, to take a 1-1 lead, during the first half at Banc of California Stadium on March 01, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 

There was some maverick behaviour. Vela once proclaimed that he didn’t really like football, and his relations with various coaches of the Mexican national team were, at best, strained. For three years, between 2011 and 2014, Vela rejected all attempts to select him for the team.

His 2018 decision to join Los Angeles FC looked like another poor choice. His new coach would be former USA coach Bob Bradley – a strict disciplinarian.

But Los Angeles – and Bradley – turned out to be perfect for the then 30-year-old Vela. With Bradley allowing Vela to roam and improvise, his game flourished.

Fourteen goals came in 2018, but it was in 2019 that Vela dazzled. He blew the MLS season goalscoring record (31) out of the water by scoring 34, while his personal rivalry with Zlatan Ibrahimovic greatly spiced up LAFC’s games with the cross-town Los Angeles Galaxy – “El Trafico,” as the fixture is known. A tussle that was decided when LAFC knocked the Galaxy out of the 2019 play-offs with a wild 5-3 scoreline – Vela scored twice, Ibrahimovic only once.

While the Sweden striker has since moved back to Europe, Vela doesn’t look like following. Rumours of interest from Barcelona in the 2019 January window didn’t amount to anything, and it seems that he is happy in LA.

Carlos Vela of Mexico celebrates after scoring a penalty for his team’s first goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Mexico at Rostov Arena on June 23, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

That, it seems, is his main motivation. He is not in love with the game, and performs best when unburdened by pressure or coaching instructions.

He has played his last game for Mexico, having retired from international duty following the 2018 World Cup, and recently told GQ Magazine: “I don’t follow orders coaches give me, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving orders to others as a manager. I don’t see myself on television talking about soccer. If I could choose something to do with my life after I retire it would be something not related to soccer. I see myself gaining weight – I am very good at eating and travelling.”

Article by Paul Gardner