Carlos Vela was left off Mexico’s preliminary Gold Cup roster this week, closing the door on speculation he’d be off to play for El Tri this summer.
The Los Angeles Football Club forward has been playing as the best in MLS this season, so of course it makes sense to think he would get called up by Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino — he’s only 30 and still looks to be capable of playing a big role for his country.
But honestly? It’s no surprise he’s not going on international duty.
Vela turned down a call-up, something Martino shared with reporters.
“I spoke with Carlos Vela over the phone last week and he assured me that at this time his club and his family are his priority, that’s why he stepped aside,” Martino is quoted as saying in ESPN.
This completely matches with recent history and Vela’s entire career. After Martino was hired, he was spotted having coffee with Vela in Los Angeles, presumably taking the temperature of the star regarding a future call-up.
Café con sabor a convocatoria... Tata Martino aprovechó su visita a Los Ángeles para tomarse un café con Carlos Vela y hablar con los directivos de su equipo LAFC para ver la posibilidad de que venga al primer mini ciclo. pic.twitter.com/WvKVrWtVCW— Fernando Cevallos (@FerCevallosF) February 8, 2019
Consider the last time Vela played for Mexico was in last summer’s World Cup. While Vela has not announced his international retirement, missing several friendlies seemed to indicate he wasn’t dying to get a call-up. Now, turning down a call-up for the Gold Cup seals it.
But Vela’s history with El Tri hasn’t always been smooth. He won the 2005 U-17 World Cup alongside Giovani dos Santos, but after making his senior team debut in 2007, he was suspended for six months by the FMF in 2010 after being involved in a party, and after a brief return in 2011, spent three years away from the set-up by his own choice. The implication is that Vela believed he was made a scapegoat and turned his attention to his club career.
While he returned after the 2014 World Cup, he was a regular through the 2018 World Cup. And now? He seems to be done with it.
Consider as well the lifestyle aspect of this. Vela is at ease in Los Angeles — he clearly loves living here, he is playing as well as he ever has in his career, and he is showing a focus he has been accused of previously not possessing. He nearly went to Barcelona in January, don’t forget! He’s not past his best yet.
If you’ve been around Vela with the press, he is literally more at ease speaking English, his second language, with reporters, than he is answering questions in his native language. Whether you think Vela is a flake or has been hard done by, there’s no question that the Mexican press has been brutal in their treatment of him — lest you think he’s merely “soft,” even the beloved Chicharito has attacked the dirty tricks done by the Mexican press towards Mexican players in recent years.
So, put yourself in his shoes. Is it worth it to seek regional glory at the Gold Cup if it means your country’s press will be trying to attack your character, to find your weaknesses, throughout the process? Sure, some players, honestly, would consider that a worthy trade.
But Vela has been through the gauntlet, and if I may sound a bit dramatic in defending a rich, handsome, popular soccer player, I think there is an entirely reasonable case that Vela just didn’t want to deal with the baggage that attends Mexico National Team duty. It makes sense, and rather than perpetuate the perception that he’s aloof, perhaps we should applaud him for making a decision that is best for his own mental health. In that light, maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, it also means that LAFC won’t miss him, and that’s not such a bad thing, either. For what it’s worth, I expect him to continue to be a monster in MLS, and that should help their title credentials quite a bit in 2019.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!