Sturridge, Rodwell … Vela? Why A-League is reaching for the stars

Daniel Sturridge and Jack Rodwell might not be the only high-profile foreigners brought to the A-League this season – at least if new Macarthur FC captain Ulises Davila can convince former Arsenal star Carlos Vela to follow in their footsteps.

Vela, widely regarded as one of Mexico’s greatest players, publicly expressed a desire to play in Australia earlier this year and recent reports from the US – where he has played in Major League Soccer since 2018 – suggest the time could be now.

The veteran attacker is coming out of contract after four glorious, albeit injury-affected, years at Los Angeles FC, who he joined for their inaugural season in MLS. He has scored 57 goals in 86 games and, in 2019, was crowned the competition’s most valuable player.

LAFC parted ways with coach Bob Bradley on Friday, further strengthening the possibility that the club – and perhaps Vela himself – may be seeking a fresh start.

Davila, a joint winner of the Johnny Warren Medal last season with Wellington Phoenix, came through the youth ranks of Mexico’s biggest club Chivas De Guadalajara at the same time as Vela.

Their careers have been somewhat intertwined: when Davila signed for Chelsea in 2011, Vela was already at Arsenal. When Vela transferred to Real Sociedad, where he scored 54 goals across seven seasons, the Blues loaned Davila several times to Spanish clubs.

Carlos Vela could join (inset, from top) Jack Rodwell and Daniel Sturridge in the A-League.Credit:Getty, Louie Douvis

The 30-year-old spoke to Vela when he first expressed interest in playing in Australia, and vowed to do all he can to convince his compatriot to come to the A-League.

“Man, he’s just amazing to watch. People who know football and saw him, in Europe or in MLS … he’s just a very exciting player, a creative player who can do the unexpected,” Davila told the Herald.

“We have very a good relationship – I’ve known him since he was 15. He can do very good things with the ball. For me, he’s one of the best of all time in Mexico.

“I don’t know if he’ll really leave MLS. I think he’s very happy there but for sure, if we could bring him, it would be amazing. I hope we can – it would be amazing for the league and for the country and football here, if we can bring more players like him. I’m sure he would love it.”

‘It would be amazing for the league and for the country and football here, if we can bring more players like him.’

A-League clubs may have to move quick to sign Vela, who is reportedly considering an offer from Turkish club Trabzonspor. But the biggest obstacle could be money – Vela was MLS’ highest-paid player this year, earning $US6.3 million ($8.7 million), including a base salary of $US4.5 million. His recent injury problems and advancing age (he will turn 33 in March) could see him reduce his asking price.

If a club could pull it off, Vela would neatly round out an influx of big names to the A-League, complementing Perth Glory’s signing of ex-Liverpool striker Sturridge – arguably the competition’s biggest coup since Alessandro Del Piero joined Sydney FC.

Rodwell has also signed for Western Sydney Wanderers but under the salary cap rather than as a marquee player. While his name doesn’t carry the same gravitas as Vela or Sturridge, plenty of intrigue surrounds whether the ex-England international can resurrect his career in Australia.

A change to A-League regulations this season enables each team to sign two marquee players, whose wages are counted outside the cap, as well as a “designated player”, who also be can be paid outside the cap but between $300,000 and $600,000. From next season, clubs will be able to sign two designated players – and the league’s impending $130 million private equity deal with US firm Silver Lake will ensure even greater scope for big spending in the A-League.

Davila, meanwhile, is set to make his debut for the Bulls on Sunday – against former club Phoenix.

“It will be nice to play against them, I’m very grateful for the people there. But now I’m on the other side,” he said. “[Macarthur] is trying to make a big project in football. I’m still thinking I’m in a good age to fight for a team, to look for championships, to give my best. So I decided to come because I felt a connection with the team, the ambition of the club.

“I just want to be successful. It’s different in many ways here, but I like a challenge and I’m enjoying it. And I know it’ll be a big season.”

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