Both players have experienced parallel ups and downs in their careers, but only one is thriving in La Liga at the moment.As the most naturally gifted players of Mexico’s first ‘golden generation,’ the careers of Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos have had a number of parallels.
Both left Mexico early in their development, both had troubled stays with north London clubs and both suffered in the media from the stigma of questions about whether they had the mental toughness and maturity to make it in the Premier League.
This summer, the trend continued when the duo moved on to La Liga - Vela to Real Sociedad and Dos Santos to Mallorca.
The transfers offered opportunities for the 2005 Under-17 World Cup winners to put their club careers back on the rails. The Mexican forwards would be bigger fish in smaller ponds compared to at Arsenal and Tottenham and would live up to the hype that Mexico fans have continued to believe.
Or so went the theory.
Since then the parallels have started to dry up. The disparity in fortunes this season between Dos Santos and Vela has been clear.
On Saturday in Mallorca’s 1-0 home loss to Athletic Bilbao, coach Joaquin Caparros hauled his club’s major summer signing off after 72 minutes with his side already down. Dos Santos had been anonymous on the left wing, almost a bystander in a home game that represented the kind of occasion that the Mexican had been brought in to turn around and to produce moments of magic to propel Mallorca up from last season’s eighth place finish to the European places.
The worst of it is that Dos Santos seems to be lacking confidence. He missed a penalty in the Copa del Rey midweek against Sevilla and his withdrawal Saturday can only do further damage.
Injury problems have hampered Dos Santos, but he has still managed to play 10 games, failing to find the net in each and only really making the desired impact in his debut.
Dos Santos’ last league goal came back in May 2011, a worrying statistic considering the player isn’t far off his 24th birthday and is shouldering a large burden of expectation for the national team.
Straight after Mallorca’s 14th consecutive winless game on Saturday, Vela’s Real Sociedad kicked off. In contrast with Mallorca, Sociedad was attempting to extend its six-game unbeaten run in a tough away trip to Granada’s Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.
The game was far from a classic and Vela, playing mostly on the right wing, was not able to reproduce his fine form he has kept up most this season. But when the time came for Real Sociedad coach Philippe Montanier to make attacking changes with the score deadlocked at 0-0, it was Vela he left on.
That’s because, unlike Dos Santos, Vela has lived up to his billing as his team’s attacking focus, scoring almost exactly a goal every two games for the Basque side this season and providing many a headache for La Liga defenses.
“I can still give more to this team and I’m going to work until I do just that,” Vela told the press in San Sebastian last week.
Such words indicate a new-found sense of maturity and responsibility in Vela, who has been accused previously of lacking those very qualities.
In essence, Vela seems to have found a home, whereas Dos Santos is still not looking comfortable at his new club and the coach that brought him, Caparros, could well soon be sacked.
The irony in all of this is that when World Cup qualifying starts up again next year, Dos Santos is an indisputable starter for El Tri under Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, while Vela has no guarantee of even being in the squad.
The underlying tension between De la Torre and Vela has been well publicized, but needs to be reconciled because Vela is no longer a prospect, but a key player about to enter what should be the peak years of his career.
On the other hand, Dos Santos needs yet more time to get out of a club rut that is becoming increasingly disconcerting.