Carlos Vela would certainly be forgiven for looking the other way when Arsenal reportedly made their interest known. After all, Real Sociedad are on the up and in with a very real chance of playing Champions League football next season. Vela is happy, comfortable and playing his best football. Why would he want to move?
A transfer away from the Anoeta was always likely to be on the cards for the Mexican forward when he was given the platform to showcase his talents. Sociedad are proving to be a good side this season, beating Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Malaga, while also scoring three at the Bernabeu, despite losing. The truth is, there’s no hurry for Vela, but he is capable of moving significantly up the ladder in European football.
So why now? Why would Arsenal look to a youngster they seemed to discard so casually and force fans to lump him into a category with genuinely failed talents? Vela is far better than he’s been given credit for during his time in the Premier League, yet you have to question whether this is something Arsenal really want.
The buyback clause, reported to sit at £4 million, isn’t something out of the ordinary for Spanish teams. Real Madrid might be seen as the trendsetters for such a feature of player sales, regularly activating clauses which has seen players like Jose Callejon, Ruben de la Red, Alvaro Negredo and Esteban Granero return to the capital. Such is the usefulness of the buyback clause – and let’s not take away the power Madrid have in the game – that they also looked to cover their backs when they sold Sergio Canales to Valencia last summer.
I’ve made the point in the past that Vela now looks like a vital piece of a good team, rather than just a peripheral figure who cowers at the thought of a pass coming his way. It was always in him to be a very good player, but Arsene Wenger, in hindsight, may have really dropped the ball on this one.
Vela is and has always been good enough to play at the highest level of European football. He won’t win you a league title on his own – far from it; but he can play a big role in improving many clubs’ fortunes on the pitch.
So far in Spain we’ve seen Vela take up numerous duties in the Sociedad attack. Philippe Montanier’s side consist of forwards who are capable of interchanging roles during play, with each of them able to play effectively in wide positions or through the middle. Vela has shown his creative qualities and his scoring touch, reaching 12 goals already this season. He’s incredibly intelligent, naturally quick and would clearly strengthen Arsenal’s current forward line.
He doesn’t go missing when his team need him, either. Sociedad’s 3-3 draw with Real Betis was a fantastic encounter, one which saw Sociedad down 2-0 at one stage after having their opening goal disallowed. Vela was vital to the comeback, scoring one and assisting another.
You have to wonder how much good it will do Vela to move back to Arsenal at this stage. His transformation isn’t complete, and any hint of disruption could spoil what has been a very promising 18 months.
Will he be welcomed back at Arsenal? I don’t see why not. A good player who was never given the opportunity others had and who left the club without much fuss. It would be a relatively low-key gamble for Arsenal considering the transfer fee involved, but Vela would be taking a significant gamble with his career if he returned to England and we saw the disappointments of old.
A successful return to Arsenal will be built on the foundation of assurances and trust. Vela will need assurances that he will continue to be a key part of a team, as he has been since arriving in Spain; while Wenger will need to give the player all the trust in the world and his own confidence that Vela belongs in this current Arsenal setup.
It would be wrong to say that Vela’s permanent departure last summer was like a nothing-story that only had themes of ‘good riddance.’ As mentioned, there is a picture painted of Vela that hangs in the corridors of the Emirates which isn’t entirely accurate. He’s a supremely talented player who has miles and miles of open road to become one of the star names at a big club. The game isn’t up for Vela to fulfil all that early promise that excited many Arsenal supporters.
There is room for a return to England for Vela, and one that would be of benefit to both the club and player. However, Arsenal need to make this move with clear intentions from a football perspective and not just because Vela is available on the cheap.