Before breaking onto the big stage, Carlos Vela was a bona fide legend amongst Football Manager gamers. Dubbed one of the best young players on the simulation, he would go on to break numerous goalscoring records for Arsenal, or any team that could convince the Gunners to sell.
However, Vela never lived up to the hype during his time in north London and was loaned to Real Sociedad in 2011 before signing permanently 12 months later. In Spain though, the 24-year old has exhibited the qualities that saw him garner such a reputation at his tender age and his form has helped push the Txuri-urdin towards the Champions League places.
While teammate Antoine Griezmann has been hogging the limelight this season, Vela has still scored (nine) or assisted (eight) 17 of Sociedad's 42 league goals this term, a direct contribution of 40.5%. It's a return bettered only by a handful of players in La Liga. His goals and assists have been a contributing factor to his average WhoScored rating of 7.55, with that figure ranking him top of every La Real player this season.
The Mexican has excelled in the Sociedad attack in a supporting role rather than as the out and out striker, with head coach Jagoba Arrasate favouring Imanol Agirretxe in that position. Yet, his prolificacy in front of goal means he's able to perform the duties of the lead striker when needs must, highlighted in his four goals from four starts when deployed there.
However, in order to bring out the creative side of his game, Vela operates best on the right of the attacking midfield trio behind the frontman in Arrasate's favoured 4-2-3-1. It's here where the 24-year-old has registered all eight of his league assists, a figure that only Cesc Fábregas (10) and Koke (nine) have bettered of every player in Spain's top tier this term. As many as 29 of the 38 key passes he's executed from open play this season have come when he's been deployed on the right flank.
This inventiveness has seen the attacker lay on an impressive 11 clear-cut goalscoring opportunities for teammates - only Fábregas (23) has played more in La Liga - displaying how crucial a player he is to the side. On the back of the departure of Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid and subsequent injury to summer arrival Esteban Granero, Sociedad needed a player to provide the creativity from midfield and Vela has done just that.
He may operate in a more advanced role compared to the two, but Arrasate deserves credit for harnessing Vela's ability, perhaps to a higher standard than that of predecessor Philippe Montanier. The attacker may've scored 14 and assisted a further nine for Sociedad last term, but he's on course to better those totals, with the current head coach channeling his capabilities in a position that the player is thriving in.
A certain amount of his success could also be attributed to the performances of Griezmann this term. The Frenchman, at present boasting a rating of 7.47, currently sees his goal tally (14) surpassed only by Cristiano Ronaldo (22) and Diego Costa (20) in the Primera Division, but the youngster's coming of age means Sociedad have another potent attacking threat operating on the opposite flank. This in turn means that opponents must focus their defensive efforts on the two players rather than one.
Gifted the additional space to express himself on the wing both creatively and in a goalscoring sense, Vela has netted an impressive seven left-footed goals in La Liga this season, a return that only Griezmann (nine) betters. It's little shock that Vela has developed a statistically calculated style of play suggesting that he 'likes to cut inside' as a result, with teams evidently struggling to deal with the fleet-footedness of the attack-minded Sociedad star when he comes off the flank.
While Griezmann's performances have at times overshadowed Vela's, the former Arsenal striker has consistently exhibited the qualities that have helped Real remain in the hunt for a Champions League finish. The duo will be crucial if the club is to place in the top 4 and atone for their early group exit from the competition earlier this season.
Yet, the latter may well be the more pivotal of the two between now and the end of the season. While Griezmann has suffered a poor run of form of late, netting just twice in seven appearances in all competitions, Vela has continued to impress with three assists and two goals over the same period, highlighting the consistency he brings to the Sociedad XI.
All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can yet more stats and player ratings.