Written by Randy Osae
“He got his chance but he’s just not good enough!”
Those words are the common representation of the daft conclusions made by the many Arsenal fans who are actually convinced that Carlos Vela proved on his own that he was not up to the standards as a Gunner.
But if there is anything that Vela proved at Arsenal, it was the value of a manager’s faith in a player. Indeed, a lack of it, and that player’s progress is hindered substantially.
Carlos Vela probably fluffed his lines in his brief Arsenal spell, he probably was not equipped to sparkle in the Premier League after all, but one thing for sure is that his failure was not down to squandering his chances because frankly, he did not get that many. Playing every weekend and coming up with the same abysmal answers to the same questions is one thing, while playing a cameo every other weekend and not making the difference is another.
Vela was the victim of the latter scenario and even the numbers say it.The fact that he never started back-to-back games in an Arsenal shirt, the fact that he only ever made three starts in his entire Premier League career and the fact that a whopping 43 of his 64 appearances as a Gunner were as a substitute tells the story of a man utilized in a peripheral role.
Ironically, most of Vela’s limited chances came at the expense of a much-favoured Nicklas Bendtner, a man who got the starts, who got the attention but a man who also got criticism for performing only when he and his erratic talent desired. The epitome of Wenger’s missing unwavering faith in Vela was how the Mexican would produce sublime moments in the cup ties in midweek but would be nowhere to be found when the team-sheet was revealed during the Premier League weekends.
Yes, jet lag from international duties with Mexico was no aid to his playing time at the Emirates and that may be Wenger’s excuse for restricting the striker’s opportuinites but for the most part, it was as if the exploits of the former Guadalajara whiz-kid simply could not attract any sort of reward from his boss. Indeed, the only occasions he received his call-up were when all else was failing in desperate dying minutes of games. And to be fair, not many footballers will pick those times to showcase their full potential because it is easier to fail under pressure.
That week during his debut 2008/09 season when Vela scored a hat-trick in the Carling Cup but was somehow dropped to the bench during the league clash with Hull City days later summed it all up. Incidentally, Arsenal went on to lose that game 2-1 at home to Hull, and as expected, Vela only played a part when his team was chasing the game.
Thus, the best of Vela’s critics have judged him in events when even the ten other men he was on the pitch with were in no comfort to be judged. Sure, Carlos was culpable for scarcely delivering a telling contribution when he came off the bench and indeed, all it might have taken was one sensational equalizer or game winner to do his ratings a world of good.
But the bottom line is that the comprehensive attributes of a player is unveiled not in cameos or some 10 minutes of tension as a substitute but during 90 minutes after 90 minutes. At least, watch the boy miss opportunities all day and be convinced he is terrible rather than condemn his ability because he could not help find that precious late goal.
Despite being starved of consistent involvement with the first team, Vela’s goal tally had more than pride to it. Overall, he managed three goals to match those three starts in his Premier League stint at Arsenal and in the Champions League – where he once came off the bench and bagged a double featuring two of his dazzling trademark chips against Braga – Vela made up for lack of action again.
And for the domestic cups where Wenger willingly paved way for him to impress, Vela did not disappoint. A staggering six goals from just eight starts in the Carling Cup ad FA Cup parceled his statistics.
“I can’t believe Arsenal never gave Vela a proper chance. Now we’re seeing what he can do when the manager believes in him” were the remarks of Spanish football expert Guillem Balague after witnessing Vela spearhead Real Sociedad into contention for a top four place in La Liga this season.
La Liga may well be the better fit for the 24-year-old, but there is little evidence to prove that he was not meant to shine in England. And we may never find out what Carlos Alberto Vela was meant to be.