The player scoring the goals is usually the one attracting the most attention. That’s just a fact of the game. A star forward knows the spotlight is always on him, both on and off the field, and part of the job is to remain focused on the task at hand. Still, when your name starts being associated with a big transfer rumor, that situation creates an unavoidable distraction.
Reading articles that come out from the media linking you to specific clubs can be challenging. You’ll have teammates mention the latest reports in the locker room, asking you whether they’re true or not. At the same time, your agent is getting calls about your next move. A lot is going on behind the scenes and it can cause a player to lose focus and suffer a drop in form.
From my personal experience, the best approach in that situation is to remain focused on your performances, continue to be a great teammate and block out the noise. It’s important to fill up your time with activity and preparation. Start your days early at the training facility and stay closely connected to your teammates and the staff. You want them to know that your focus is on them and your team and that you’re still as committed as ever.
Staying focused ahead of a big move
For a player like New York City FC striker Taty Castellanos, who is now coming into the best form of his life, he’s chosen to not let the speculation be a distraction. His work ethic on both sides of the ball is a clear indication that he’s motivated to produce and work for his team. And that's after links to Europe and South America all winter.
He’s unselfish. Sometimes players can make it all about themselves when pushing for a move. But he’s opted to make the players around him better. He looks for teammates who are in a better position than he is when entering the attacking third. You can tell he’s enjoying the moment with his teammates and there’s no question where his loyalty lies.
The 2021 Golden Boot presented by Audi winner scored in each of his club’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches last season, including their final win over Portland. This season he’s already scored four goals in four matches in the Concacaf Champions League. He’s a terrific example of how a star player handles the outside noise and pressures, even when reportedly labeled a $15 million player by his club.
Dealing with the attention
In the spring of 2009, I felt the attention start to grow as clubs from the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and the Eredivise were scouting me when I was in Sweden's Allsvenskan playing for Hammarby IF. My agent would let me know which clubs were coming to certain matches, and I was excited to prove that I was ready to take that next big step in my career.
I wanted to show how I could initiate the press and work on both sides of the ball and, of course, score goals. I never wanted to give anybody an excuse not to sign me, whether it was my hold-up play, my first touch, my runs, my defending or my passing. I learned from my early struggles when I first joined Hammarby and all I wanted to do was score goals.
The pressure I put on myself held me back and I vowed to never let that happen again. Instead, my approach became just to focus entirely on the training sessions and the matches. The rest takes care of itself.
That mindset allowed me to finish on a high note with Hammarby and got me my preferred move to FC Sochaux in Ligue 1.
Making a move in your 30s
For some players that are on the back end of their career, there are other considerations that play a part in the decision-making. When you’re in your early thirties and your contract with your current club is winding down, you’re looking to secure that last long-term contract and for most players, family plays a big part in their decision. You’re no longer playing for yourself; you’re playing for your family and sometimes it can dictate where you end up.
I had just turned 30 and had recently recovered from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Our twin boys had been born prematurely three months prior. The general manager called me and asked if I wanted to accept a trade. I was shocked that this was a possibility but ultimately it was my choice. After a conversation with him, it became clear to me that I needed to give myself this chance.
I chose the opportunity of a long-term contract rather than uncertainty at home. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to process what it would feel like leaving home. When you’re older, sometimes you must make those tough decisions for a chance to prolong your career to support your family or play in a city that your family feels most comfortable.
He has stated publicly that he wants to concentrate on spending more time with his family, which is a big reason why he doesn’t play for the Mexican national team. Carlos, when fit and motivated, is the best player in Major League Soccer, but lately he’s had a number of injuries. He’s looking to bounce back and started the season with a hat trick in his first match against the Colorado Rapids.
Vela joined LAFC as part of an exciting project where the expectations were to win and to win now. The last two years have been tough for LAFC and have seen their first coaching change. But in my experience playing with Steve Cherundolo, he was always a positive and upbeat teammate willing to give advice. I know he will try to get the best out of Vela so that LAFC can return to being a favorite for MLS Cup.
A healthy and happy Carlos Vela will give them the best chance of doing so, and that will also be the key to keeping him in the league.
But, trust me, these decisions are never easy when the spotlight shines brightly upon you.