While the global superstar had no shortage of suitors after capping his nine-year Real Madrid career on June 1, Vela said it’s rather straight-forward when connecting the dots as to why his fellow 33-year-old forward chose the Black & Gold side of Los Angeles for his next home.
“He wasn't playing the last year or two as much, so he was looking for a place where he will be happy, he will be himself, [where] we will help him to be as good as possible,” Vela told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s MLS All-Stars training session.
“He was looking for that because for sure he will have more options to stay in Europe or go back to England or Wales. But he decides on LA because he wants to be happy. It's the right place to be happy and also score some goals and hopefully win a championship. In his head, it's something like that.”
Vela, LAFC’s inaugural player and their captain, said those performances are the byproduct of factors off the field as much as on it.
“Like I always say, we are a person as well,” remarked the 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP and former Mexican international. “It's not all about money or being a top, top team. Sometimes it's about where I will be more happy, where my family can be happy, where I will be free to play and enjoy playing. Because when you enjoy what you are doing, you do better.
“I'm not in his head, but I gather he wasn't that happy in Madrid not playing. Then he saw LA, how good you can live there, the weather, the family can enjoy it. He made a decision for his life and for his career and he will enjoy it.”
Bale, at this stage of his career, may also have different priorities than from his early days at Southampton and Tottenham in England’s Premier League. And, as Vela noted, he’s arrived in MLS before leading Wales to their first World Cup since 1956, a 64-year gap for the Dragons upon entering Group B at the Qatar 2022 edition.
“In the end, it doesn't matter what you decide, the people will complain about your decision,” Vela said. “The only person you have to make happy is yourself. If he makes the decision to come it's because it's the best option for him and he's showing how good he is.
“I think you're seeing a better Gareth than the last couple of years for sure. He's preparing for a World Cup, so he will be in good shape and will help our goal to win MLS Cup.”
Quite remarkably, LAFC landed Bale on a 12-month contract with options through 2024 – one using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) compared to the Designated Player (DP) tag many assume he’d require if MLS rumors ever turned into reality. And, like ex-Juventus center back and Italy legend Giorgio Chiellini’s summertime arrival to LAFC, no transfer fee was required.
Those details are even more striking when put into the context of Bale being a five-time UEFA Champions League winner who won 19 trophies at Real Madrid, and once commanded the world’s largest transfer fee (roughly $130 million in 2013).
“When you have a player at that level happy, imagine how good he can be,” Vela said. “We are still forming that chemistry to play together because he's coming from holiday so he's getting the rhythm, but he showed already how good he can be.”
The only challenge, Vela joked, is what head coach Steve Cherundolo does with their abundance of attacking options. They’re joined by two Designated Players in Uruguayan international Brian Rodriguez and Gabon international Denis Bouanaga, as well as Colombian international striker Cristian Arango and Ghanaian sparkplug Mahala Opoku.
'Only goal is the championship'
With that much firepower, LAFC are on pace to possibly surpass the MLS single-season points record (73) that the New England Revolution set a year ago – and win their second Shield in four years. Plus, Vela said his connection with Bale is just getting going.
“I know how Gareth likes to play, he's really fast,” said the Chivas and Arsenal youth product. “Every time I come in from the right, I will have all the space to see him making the runs. We're talking a lot about how we can be productive for the team and we will show more for sure.”
And with Bale onboard, Vela is confident LAFC can end the 2022 season on top.
“We're preparing him for playoffs to be at a dominant level and of course with him, with Giorgio, with all the team we have, the only goal we have is the championship,” Vela said. “If we don't make it, it will be something bad for us.”