Vela's Gold Cup refusal one of several issues facing Mexico squad
There appears to be different sides to Carlos Vela.
There's the one that lives in Los Angeles, talks to the press, contributes a goal per game for LAFC and is honing in on the MLS MVP award. That's the happy Vela, the one fans pay to see, produces the kind of special moments in games only elite players are capable of and attracts interest from Barcelona, even at 30.
Then there's the Vela with Mexico. On national team duty, Vela is shy, avoids the cameras, very rarely talks to journalists and generally looks uneasy, even if he does try to mask it with that wide smile. He's had his moments in a Mexico shirt, but not the highs that his talent demands. Arguably the highlight was the 2005 Under-17 World Cup victory.
And now, just like in 2014 ahead of the World Cup, Vela has hit peak form ahead of a summer tournament, only to express his desire not to lead El Tri's attack.
"I spoke with Carlos Vela over the phone last week and he assured me that at this time his club and his family are his priority, that's why he stepped aside," said Mexico coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino in a news conference on Tuesday in Mexico City.
It may well be a coincidence that Vela's best form has come when he hasn't been participating with the national team, but it still goads Mexico fans like a sick joke. Why? Because Vela is still arguably the best Mexican player out there, even if he is now in MLS and not in La Liga with Real Sociedad.
It's now difficult to see Vela coming back under Martino, posing the question of whether the Cancun native's national team career is over.
That remains to be seen, but the issues facing the Argentine go beyond the LAFC forward and his decision not to represent his country.
Herrera publicly asked to be excluded because of the long season he's had at Porto and his pending move to Atletico Madrid, while West Ham striker Hernandez is due to become a father. Martino stated previously that he didn't want to include players that would be distracted.
As individual cases, the players' decisions -- Corona's back in March and the other three ahead of the summer -- are rational and understandable. But as a group, it points to a concerning trend and something Martino is clearly not happy about as he seeks to establish a fresh culture.
"I don't think it is common. It's not something I've seen before," said Martino. "A call-up to the national team is a reward for footballers and when they don't see it as that, it's logical for them not to be here."
Add to that the absence of Diego Lainez and the fact Hirving Lozano is not guaranteed to return to full fitness ahead of the Gold Cup and this Mexico squad has been shorn of its best midfielder (Herrera) and a heap of its best attacking talent.
Even without them, there's enough quality in the squad to bring the Gold Cup back to Mexico. It's not time to panic; young names like midfielders Carlos Rodriguez (Monterrey) and Ivan Rodriguez (Leon), as well as Uriel Antuna (LA Galaxy), Jorge Sanchez (America) and Alexis Vega (Chivas) can seize the opportunity.
Perhaps the generational change that Martino knew he'd be in charge of has just been given an enforced and premature kick-start.
But behind the scenes, it has been a little bit of a struggle for the Argentine in his first five months in charge.
The former Paraguay coach's hiring late last year was engineered by Dennis te Kloese and Guillermo Cantu, along with Gerardo Torrado, and then rubber-stamped by FMF president Yon de Luisa.
Te Kloese left for the Galaxy's GM position earlier this year, while it was announced earlier this month that Cantu will be vacating his post as sporting director of the FMF after the Gold Cup.
"They've left me alone, only [Torrado] is left," said Martino in an interview with ESPN earlier this month. "In reality, when this type of thing happens such a short time after having spoken to them and having come in here, it is a strange feeling."
Martino also seemed to confirm that Mexico won't be in the 2020 Copa America, which is a bitter blow that could leave El Tri without a truly competitive international tournament until the next World Cup.
"Being in the Copa America was a possibility this year or next year, until the [FMF] president told us that there isn't any chance of participating in the Copa America," said Martino.
These aren't make-or-break issues on their own -- and Martino re-enforced his commitment to his project with Mexico -- but the niggling problems off the field aren't pleasant, even if there were positive performances and results in his first two games.
The Argentine will now be desperate for the players that do want to participate to arrive in camp, start training and for the games to finally get underway.