The burgeoning career of Mexico striker Carlos Vela took on an exciting new dimension following the final of the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru last year. When he left the family home in Cancun to join up with the national team, little did he know he and his teammates would end up grabbing headlines around the world by crushing the mighty Brazil 3-0 in the final.
"Nothing compares to defeating Brazil in the final, as they're always the favourites, the team to beat," says the young sharpshooter, who opened the scoring on that unforgettable night in Lima. "It was like a dream. We wanted to do well but the aim was to take it game by game. We didn't expect to win, but we really enjoyed it, I can tell you."
As well as taking home a winner's medal, Vela also pocketed the adidas Golden Boot after finishing as the tournament's top scorer. His outstanding performances caught the eye of more than one talent scout, but it was English Premier League side Arsenal who won the race for his signature. After learning his trade at Chivas Guadalajara, where his older brother still plays, Carlos decided to pack his bags and head for pastures new, signing a five-year deal with the Gunners. However, due to Premier League age restrictions, he will not be able to make his debut in England until 2007.
In the meantime, the London club have opted to loan the young Mexican to Celta Vigo, where he has thus far endured yet more frustration, left unable to make his debut as the Spanish league side have a full quota of overseas players. That situation looks set to change next season, however. "I'm very pleased to have taken this step after winning the World Championship," he told FIFA.com. "I never thought I'd be with a European team, in the Spanish league at the age of 16. It's what all players dream of, and I'm training and looking forward to playing soon.
"Arsenal have given me a terrific opportunity and I'm working hard, trying to make sure I do things right," he adds. "I can't afford to rest on my laurels and have to keep improving. Hopefully it won't be long before I can start scoring goals for my team."
Vela, who spends his days training in the morning and going to school in the afternoon, is now settled in Spain having been joined by his parents and one of his brothers. "My older brother is with Chivas and couldn't come, but I hope he'll be able to fly over some time," he sighs.
The possibility of his family coming over to provide a little stability in his life convinced him to make the journey across the Atlantic. "The fact that my parents could come here and work so we could all be together was a big factor. The standard of football is also higher here (than in Mexico), and you've got to keep trying to improve."
A great admirer of Ronaldo and a keen Real Madrid fan, Vela considered the opportunity to enjoy a Spanish sojourn too good to miss. "It's great to have the opportunity to play in Spain because it's one of the best leagues in the world," he said. "I like the way they play here because they let you express yourself more. It's not as tough as the English game."
Vela's sole aim is to show what he can do on the pitch, regardless of whether it is with Celta or Arsenal. "(Spain and England) are two of the world's top leagues, and I'll take whatever opportunity comes up, as long as it's a good one," he says with a smile.
"It's tough to train all week and then stay at home on Sundays. It's tough because all you want to do is play. I've had to get used to the idea since I came here, though, and all I'm thinking about now is next season."
The upwardly-mobile striker, a mainstay of Mexico's U-17 side along with the supremely gifted Giovanni Dos Santos - now with Spanish giants Barcelona - certainly talks a good game.
He is also delighted with the progress Celta have made this season. The Galicians, who contested the UEFA Champions League two years ago and were promptly relegated the following season, bounced straight back to the top-flight last season and are in with an excellent chance of returning to European football next season.
"The team has bags of potential and a lot of young players," says an optimistic Vela, clearly delighted with the campaign being put together by one of Spain's less fashionable clubs. "It's growing stronger all the time. I'm sure Celta will qualify for Europe because the team deserves it. What's more, if I get the chance to play next season, I'll be doing so at the very top: in the Spanish league and in Europe."
Few doubt that Vela has necessary qualities to convince Celta coach Fernando Vazquez to hand him the debut he yearns for. With hard work and a little luck, the lethal finisher who lit up Peru with his skills last year will doubtless be doing the same before long on European shores.