Jérémie Aliadière and Carlos Vela
10 April ~ Jérémie Aliadière and Carlos Vela never managed to make their mark at Arsenal but they are both enjoying successful seasons in France and Spain respectively. Aliadière spent 11 years in England, signing for Arsenal as a 16-year-old Clairefontaine graduate in 1999. He had several loan spells, as a series of injuries coupled with the presence of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp restricted his first-team opportunities. He eventually joined Middlesbrough in 2007, spending three largely ineffectual years there before being released in June 2010.
That resulted in a year as a free agent after he damaged knee ligaments while on trial at West Ham. Linked with Blackpool and Al Ain of the UAE, he joined Lorient in his native France for 2011-12. Having averaged roughly ten games a season in England, Aliadière has enjoyed a largely injury-free period in France, is playing regularly and producing the best football of his career.
His first three months at the club, spent regaining his fitness and adapting to a league he had not previously experienced, earned a three-year-deal. He was linked with a move to Newcastle in January but the approach was dismissed by Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff, who told L'Equipe: "I know Jérémie's wife is missing England a lot but he will still be here on February 1. Losing such a decisive player in the middle of a season would make no sense."
Aliadière starred and scored in Lorient's most impressive performances this season – a 2-2 draw at PSG on the opening day and a comprehensive 3-0 win at Marseille in December. Having helped cement Lorient in the top half of Ligue 1, he now has designs on a first call-up for the national side. It would cap a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the 30-year-old, who feared his career had reached a premature end a couple of years ago.
Carlos Vela joined Arsenal after impressing at the 2005 Under-17 World Championship, spending time at Salamanca and Osasuna before gaining a work permit in May 2008. He scored a hat-trick in his full debut, a 6-0 win against Sheffield United in the League Cup, but his appearances were largely restricted to cup competitions and low-calibre league opponents during his two and a half seasons with the club. He spent the second half of 2010-11 underwhelming on loan at West Brom before returning to Spain last year, joining Real Sociedad on loan in August 2011.
Twelve goals in 35 league games led to Vela being voted Sociedad's player of the year and a permanent deal. He has managed to replicate this form during the current campaign, scoring 13 in only 24 games to move the club to fourth in La Liga – the final Champions League spot – with eight games remaining. Vela opened the scoring in a 4-2 win against Malaga at the weekend, creating up a four-point gap between the teams, while Valencia trail Sociedad by two points.
Arsenal are believed to have insisted on a buy-back clause as part his subsequent transfer and Vela's fine recent form has generated speculation regarding the likelihood of it being activated. Vela promptly outlined his desire to remain with the club, revealing: "Arsenal are a big team who gave me the opportunity to play in Europe. I will always remember that but I didn't have the opportunities that I felt I deserved."
At a time when critics are eager to question Arsène Wenger's transfer market judgement, he is sure to take comfort in the progress shown by his former players. Aliadière spent several months training with Arsenal during his rehabilitation as a free agent and Wenger is believed to have provided a recommendation to Lorient. Whether due to good fortune, greater responsibility and maturity, more opportunities or all of the above, Aliadière and Vela are both finally fulfilling their undoubted potential. Scott Johnson