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COMMENT: Vela's exit sums up the changing face of Wanderers

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Though Josh Vela’s departure at Wanderers should not come as a complete surprise, it provided the first clue at the major upheaval we could expect this summer.

Vela’s close mate, and another first-team stalwart, David Wheater had set tongues wagging when he posted an Instagram picture of the training ground on Saturday with the words: “It has been a pleasure”.

The big defender, who along with Vela is the only link to a Premier League past, is unlikely to count this season’s experiences in that sentiment, such is the bitterness which has emerged in the last few months.

Vela has not had the first-team opportunities he wanted this season under Phil Parkinson, rightly or wrongly, so his announcement yesterday that he is to quit after 17 years was not greeted with widespread shock.

But along with Wheater, Vela’s presence has been a bedrock in good times and bad. Faced with the prospect of losing both in the coming months, the next incarnation of Bolton Wanderers will no longer feel as familiar.

As someone who has reported on the fortunes and misfortunes of this club for more than a decade, I have grown used to bidding players farewell and good luck. And in Vela’s case I sincerely think a move away from Bolton will benefit his career.

At his best, Vela’s gritty Salfordian streak and boundless energy made him a great player to watch, especially given I and the Bolton supporters have watched him mature from a fresh-faced teen into a young man with a family of his own.

It is endlessly gratifying to see players fulfil their potential, and equally frustrating to see it wasted. And though it grinds my gears to think Wanderers have let yet another asset leave for nothing, I can only see a move being good for the midfielder’s career.

Having watched a crop-haired kid graduate quickly through the youth ranks to kick at the heels of senior professionals like Fabrice Muamba, Stu Holden and Mark Davies in the Premier League days, it was no great surprise that Owen Coyle turned to him in the final few weeks of the 2011/12 campaign.

My first encounter with Josh was in the rickety stands at Ayr United where, at the age of 18, he gave me what I’m pretty sure was his first press interview as a professional. I’d love to say it was a classic but the phrase ‘water into wine’ springs to mind.

Thankfully, as Vela matured, so did his interview skills. Just as it was on the pitch, his passion for the club shone through with every sentence.

Vela does not wear disappointment well, and we learned that in the early days under Dougie Freedman. Ironically, it was when the Scot loaned an unhappy young midfielder out to Notts County that his Bolton career was saved. He returned stronger and flourished under Neil Lennon, albeit in an unnatural right-back position.

At the time Rob Holding had sealed a move to Arsenal and Zach Clough was bolstering his own reputation, Vela hit his stride in League One when Parkinson put faith in him as a number 10.

He started to develop the knack of scoring important goals and racked up double figures in the promotion season. All of a sudden, he too was starting to turn heads.

Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic are two clubs who saw bids rejected at one time or another but Vela lost momentum on the return to the Championship after picking up a knee injury on the opening day of the season which kept him out until mid-October.

By that stage the midfield balance had changed and Parkinson had brought in Karl Henry to sit alongside Darren Pratley as an insurance policy in front of the back four. Vela struggled from there on in to find a regular supply of goals in a struggling side and this season made just 19 appearances, getting just two starts after January 5.

At that stage he became a father first time as his partner Candice gave birth to their first child, Noah.

While it is fair to say Vela has needed a guiding hand at times during his Wanderers career – and that there have been flashpoints – there are signs that family life has brought about a new sense of responsibility.

If Vela’s relationship with Parkinson was under strain during his long spell out of the side, it appears he is better handing the discontent.

We have known for months that the vast majority of Wanderers’ squad fall out of contract this summer, and as the club’s fortunes sank deeper, the likelihood of major changes increased. Now it is here, there is a sense of sadness.

Vela has a point to prove, to those who cast doubt after his return to the Championship and indeed the manager who withdrew his once unwavering support with barely a quarter of this season gone.

It is sad to think he did not completely realise his potential at Bolton and that the circumstances at the club have hastened his departure.

He will survive, as will Wanderers. But it would have been nice to see them succeed together.



Bolton midfielder Josh Vela is on Hull City's radar

JOSH Vela is waiting to see if Nigel Adkins’ departure at Hull City has scuppered his chances of a move to the Championship club.
The Wanderers midfielder is a free agent this summer and has already announced his intention to leave the club.
The Bolton News understands Hull were poised to sign the 25-year-old before Adkins decided against signing a new deal at the KCOM Stadium.

Michael Appleton has now been tipped to take over at the Tigers and it is not yet known whether the interest in Vela will be resurrected.

Vela has other options but is ideally looking to stay in the Championship.

Meanwhile, Wanderers have sold 14-year-old striker Daniel Ogwuru to Manchester City for £100,000 up front, plus bonuses depending on his future success which would see the fee top £1million.

City saw a bid for the youngster rejected in January but returned with a structured bid which was accepted by Wanderers’ administrators.

Natasha Whittam

Natasha Whittam
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
"...looking to stay in the Championship".

As a steward?

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