‘Admirable’- Why Barcelona should think twice before signing MLS hero


Recent reports have linked Barcelona with a move for Los Angeles FC star Carlos Vela. This isn’t a new rumour at all. This past summer, the player himself confirmed that he was close to joining the club.

In an interview that the Mexican gave to BS the Podcast (via MLSSoccer), he said:

“It was really close. My second month for holidays, I was there with my piña colada and my agent called me to say ‘look, Barcelona is calling you. They want you to play for four months then you can go back to LA.’ I said just say yes, I don’t care about the money or nothing. I’m going to start training tomorrow, give me two weeks to be a little bit fit. Barcelona, Real Madrid you can’t say no. … If it was only my choice, for sure, I’d take it.”

Keeping that in mind, it is no coincidence that the reports have resurfaced. His performances make it tough for anyone to not pay too much attention too.

In all competitions this season, Vela has played 35 games and has found the back of the net as many as 38 times. He has also racked up a tally of 11 assists on the way. This is an improvement from his campaign last season, when he scored only 14 times in the league.

Current San Jose Earthquakes boss Matias Almeyda was full of praise for Vela two months ago. He admired his ability to adapt, despite being a foreigner. He said (via MLSSoccer):

“It’s admirable how he’s doing it with willingness. He’s demonstrated that he’s the foreigner that has come in to make a difference with determination, with a possibility to play in another league, but he chose this one.”

In the 35 games that he has played, the former Arsenal man has featured on the right side 28 times and has played up front on his own seven times, as per Transfermarkt. In the 4-2-1-3 shape, Vela has helped the likes of Adama Diomande and Diego Rossi score 10 and 17 goals respectively.

Last season too, Vela was the club’s highest scorer. Diomande and Rossi scored 12 goals each.

Vela heatmap v LA Galaxy (via Whoscored)

During LAFC’s win over LA Galaxy recently, Vela played up front in a 4-3-3 shape, with Brian Rodriguez and Rossi on his sides. He scored two goals and it is clear how he played a very free and fluid role, despite playing upfront.

That is how he plays, no matter where he plays. While playing on the right, he likes to drift and pick up positions that are usually unnatural for someone who is playing on the right.

Messi heatmap v Eibar (via Whoscored)

An approach like that is very much reminiscent of Lionel Messi, who does the same for Barcelona. The Argentine plays on the right, with Luis Suarez up front. But he constantly picks up central positions- the heatmap in the performance at Eibar shows that.

That doesn’t exactly mean that Vela would be a second-fiddle to Messi. The fact that the Mexican talked about a potential loan deal in the interview suggests that Barca were not looking for a long-term solution. It is starkly reminiscent of what they tried with Kevin-Prince Boateng.

The current Fiorentina man joined Barca on loan from Sassuolo this past January and played as a second-choice striker in his short stint at the Nou Camp. He didn’t assist or score even once, but Vela would be a definite upgrade in that position.

But it comes down to one thing- would playing in the same side as Messi benefit Vela in any way? The heatmaps suggest that they are players who will take up similar positions. Their numbers show that playing free roles brings the best out of them too. One playing in a more restricted position would hinder his ability to play at his best.

The club already has Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Carles Perez and Ansu Fati well capable of playing in the front three positions. Signing another player would only restrict the develop of Perez and Fati.

But since the talk was about a loan deal, Vela could just try an adventure. It would worth something to talk of with his grandkids when grows old. But tactically, it is hardly suitable for a player like him.