Back when I was a relentless alcoholic (supporting Arsenal does that to a man) and my bar's token "recently lost his girlfriend" guy, I had a conversation with a friend (hobo, friend, criminal, fraternity brother, it's all the same thing) about the state of Arsenal and how bright the future was. We had just signed Aaron Ramsey (suck it Ferguson!), Samir Nasri, the immaculate Silvestre as well as signing many current players to "long term" contracts but, that was far from the exciting part for me. No, the fun part was reading that a certain fat Mexican striker, who spent the previous season on loan in Spain, had finally been granted a work permit and would play in the Arsenal first team that season.
I admit, because I am an honest man, that the attraction at first was purely physical. Not in the sense that Vela looked better than our other strikers, which can be argued, or that he was an imposing figure on the field because he was, well, very chubby. He just looked different! Like he was special, there was a pep in his step, a sort of giddy idiocy that would advise him to chip a keeper when a simple side foot "pass into the net" would do, the type of audaciousness to nutmeg a defender on the left wing and then try to curl in from twenty yards out. I was ecstatic and I loved him. I knew though that it had to be a secret love, because it was an unproven love and these types of romances have a tendency of breaking one's heart.
Fast forward to his full debut against Sheffield United in the 2008 Carling Cup and boy oh boy, what a debut it was! This fat, swaggering Central American god introduced himself to the league and to new hearts with a hat trick of the highest caliber. The first goal of the game was scored by future "best striker in the world" Nicklas Bendtner, who curled it in from outside the box after Vela deceived a couple of defenders in midfield. The second, created by a back heel from future handsome disappointment, Aaron Ramsey, helped Bendtner put some gloss on his impressive resume as he finished past the keeper from the left.
After the good king Carlos Vela had satisfied the appetite of his teammates, it was time for them to do the same. Bendtner released Vela on the left side after an imitation offside trap from Sheffield failed miserably and Vela raced into the box, deemed the goalkeeper unworthy and curled in a goal to the bottom left corner. Easy, classy, nonchalant, a coolness that drove Van Persie into a fit of jealous rage that would torment him into the injury table for years to come. In the second half, the sky parted, allowing the descent of a dove from heaven that rested on the left foot of Vela as he walked into the field.
For the non-believers that denied this event, Vela's second goal would be enough evidence to convert the harshest of stone-hearted critics. Future glass-man Kieran Gibbs lofts a high ball to a streaking blur in the shape of Vela down the left hand side, between two defenders; a lesser man would have lost the ball or maybe tried to flick it on with their head in such an unsexy and savage manner, but not him.
Vela anticipates the flight of the ball, gets between the two defenders and chests the ball over the one behind him, further completing the sex act by then controlling it with his left leg, striding confidently into the box, seemingly stopping, bored of the disgusting nature of football, he chips it over the keeper without any hint of perspiration or hard work. In my eyes, I had just seen Apollo stride down from his golden chariot, his beautiful face radiant with confidence and contempt in the same motion, to take part in the human folly known as football.
You could not convince me that Carlos Vela was not the best striker since El Gordo. Another goal was scored by some 16 year old, soon to be forgotten midfielder named Jack Wilshere before Saint Nick was thwarted by the fates in completing his hattrick. But at what mortal men fail at, Carlos Vela would not. In such a mocking act to the whole human race, a way for the Mexican god himself to reveal to us the savagery of our nature, Vela received the ball on the left hand side after the fullback seemingly vanished in the space-time continuum.
Instead of racing into the goal and chipping it as his highness is known to do, he struck it with such venom that though it was close to the goalkeeper's body, there was no choice from the ball but to go in. Bottom right corner, goal, hattrick. Done in such a fashion that I expected him to turn around to the fans, his arms aloft, and to scream "IS THIS NOT WHAT YOU WANT?!" Russell Crowe would have been proud.
The years passed by and Vela was disgraced by being loaned out to West Brom before the fateful loan to Real Sociedad where after netting 12 goals, he stated "I don't want to return to Arsenal. I have asked my agent to negotiate with Arsenal to stay here." In July of 2012, he was granted his wish and was sold for far too little, for what should a god of football cost? With the number 11 shirt on his back, he has gone on to score repeatedly for the Spanish team, even bullying Barcelona's frail defenders on occasion and enjoying the warm weather that he is used to as the driver of the sun in Olympus.
So while, the traitor Van Persie grays in Manchester, Eduardo battles depression in Ukraine and the Greatest Striker To Ever Drink Drive fails to sell shirts in Turin, Vela succeeds. Vela prospers and scores, nonchalant as always, from the day that he walked onto the field at the Emirates till the day he walked out the doors of Arsenal. From when he showed me what real love could feel like, to the moment he signed for Real Sociedad and I was forced to feign love for faux strikers at Arsenal, trying desperately to grab on to the disappearing flames of romance.
This piece was originally published in The third Surreal Football magazine.