So often you hear stories of the players Arsene Wenger could have brought to Arsenal.
Yaya Toure is one of them – a midfielder who played on trial for the Gunners before eventually failing to earn a contract in north London, primarily because of passport issues. There are others, too. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most famous.
However, a further missed opportunity came in the form of Zlatan Ibrahivomic – someone who rejected a trial with the Gunners.
Whatever you think about the Swede who proclaims this is his earth we’re all living on, it was a player now closely linked to the striker that became one of Wenger’s biggest failures.
The Frenchman is one of the greatest managers of our time but he has made mistakes, certainly with Carlos Vela’s development, or lack of during his time in England.
In 2019, the tricky Mexican forward lit up North America by ousting Zlatan not only to the MLS top scorer award, but also to the accolade of being the league’s Most Valuable Player.
For Los Angeles FC, Vela scored 36 goals in only 33 appearances. Now aged, 31, he is one of a fair few that got away from the Gunners.
Take Serge Gnabry for example. The German walked out the exit door all too easily after being given infrequent opportunities by Wenger. Since then, he has now become a powerhouse for Bayern Munich. He single handily demolished Tottenham in the Champions League this season by scoring four goals in their 7-2 romp.
Like Vela, he was cast aside to West Bromwich Albion for a season loan – neither were able to truly profit or benefit from spells away from Islington – neither did they prosper under the stewardship of one of the best coaches to live and breathe.
Supporters at the Emirates Stadium still talk of the Mexican’s ability to dink the ball over the ‘keeper with supreme confidence – it was a trademark.
Once he was left one on one with the man between the posts, it was never a simple finish for the Cancun born striker. He’d sit the goalkeeper down and delicately lift it over them in tormenting fashion as though he were the great Lionel Messi.
The boss once declared: “He’s an Eduardo basically. He is left-footed with intelligent moves and a good finisher.”
Though, in total, Vela played just 64 times for Arsenal after arriving in 2005. Only 19 appearances of those were starts – he scored 11 goals. Now starring in the MLS, a league flourishing with players both at the start and ends of their career, he’s finally living up to his billing. It is no longer a retirement league – Miguel Almiron moving to Newcastle is fine evidence of that.
Maybe, just maybe, had Vela been given a chance at the Emirates, he would have succeeded at the elite level. However, he was a player emerging out of the shadow of Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and co. – he had to deliver there and then, not when he was 31.
He is the definition of a late bloomer, arguably because he paid the price under Wenger at a young age. The talent was there, but not until the later stages was he able to deliver it on a consistent basis – perhaps it’s because he’s finally earning regular football.
The Frenchman certainly could have treated him better – something Vela’s inability to start football matches in England attests too.
On multiple occasions, the legendary manager would show his stubbornness. He had a loyalty to certain players and refused to change his ways. That was all too clear in the latter years of his Arsenal reign.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the 72 cap forward is now better than he’s ever been. He’s tearing defences to shreds on a regular basis with ruthless finishing and stunning artistry, he couldn’t be more of a Wenger player if he tried.