Carlos Vela knows full well that the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will have a major bearing on his immediate future. The promising Mexico forward has so far failed to fulfil his huge potential since joining Arsenal, and is looking upon the game’s showpiece event as his opportunity to prove that those early predictions of future greatness were not misplaced.
Although the 21-year-old’s career is still in its infancy, Mexico are banking on his speed and goalscoring instinct to help them negotiate their way out of an awkward-looking Group A. Aside from a date with hosts South Africa, Javier Aguirre’s side also have daunting engagements with Uruguay and France.
Talent to burn
Vela was first tipped for stardom as a youth-team player at Guadalajara. He backed up his classy club performances with a magnificent showing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005, making a compelling contribution to Mexico’s triumph and walking away with the adidas Golden Shoe as the competition’s leading scorer.
More good news would soon come the teenager’s way. His displays in Peru had caught the eye of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and after several months of negotiationswith Chivas, he joined the Premier League club, renowned as one of the world’s leading nurseries for youngsters.
Lacking the necessary work permit, he was loaned out to Salamanca of the Spanish second division and then to Osasuna, one flight higher up. His quality shone through in the Iberian nation, and no sooner had the young Mexican obtained the necessary paperwork from the UK government than Wenger recalled him to London ahead of the 2008/09 season.
In the meantime, Vela had been replicating his fine club form on the international stage, representing his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 before being called up to the senior team. He won his first cap against Brazil in September that year before appearing in ten of the eleven matches El Tricolor played in 2008. And just as he had done at junior level, he regularly served notice of his abilities.
Back in London, Vela was gradually bedding down in the Arsenal side, with Wenger giving him the odd appearance in the league and the UEFA Champions League, while handing him regular starts in the League Cup and FA Cup. The Mexican prospect seemed to be rising to the challenge, chipping in with goals and performances that bode well for the years ahead.
Unfortunately, his development was checked in what turned out to be a frustrating 2009. After finishing the season with Arsenal, he joined up with the Mexico team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Injury restricted his participation to just two games, although he did score in El Tri’s 5-0 defeat of tournament hosts USA in the final. His fitness problems would have an immediate impact on his club career and after missing Arsenal’s pre-season games he slipped down the pecking order.
The Gunners' own injury problems soon meant he was back in the reckoning as the season progressed. The problem was, his goalscoring touch deserted him at just the wrong time. He hardly helped his cause by leaving his passport at home ahead of the second leg of Arsenal’s Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona, an oversight that ended his hopes of appearing in the tie.
A campaign that should have provided confirmation of Vela’s ability to score regular goals at the highest level has thus brought nothing but frustration. Fortunately for him, he has an opportunity to make up for it all in June. The scorer of eight international goals in only 23 outings, the time has come for Vela to prove that he belongs on the big stage and to push himself into contention for the Hyundai Best Young Player award at South Africa 2010.
Carlos’s older brother Alejandro is also a professional footballer. He plays for Cruz Azul in the Mexican top flight.
Vela is a close friend of Giovani dos Santos, his main accomplice in Mexico’s historic victory at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005.
The young forward scored 6 goals in 29 appearances with Arsenal in the 2008/09 season, his first in the English Premier League.
Vela made his full international debut for Mexico in a 3-1 defeat by Brazil in Boston on 12 September 2007.
Though he came through the youth ranks at Guadalajara, Vela never played a first division game for them.