Bolton Wanderers midfielder Josh Vela bids to force his way back into first-team reckoning
JOSH Vela is a young man on a mission – to make up for lost time and get back into the first-team picture for Wanderers.
Injuries have hampered the Salfordian’s career after being handed his debut almost two years ago by former Whites manager Owen Coyle.
Coyle rated Vela highly enough to hand him a professional contract when he was just 17 and his successor Dougie Freedman has also been impressed with Vela whenever he has been fit to train or play for the Under-21s.
But the fact that has not been often enough has frustrated both manager and player alike.
Now Vela hopes his fitness problems are behind him and that recent displays for the second-string will help his bid to stake a claim for the first team.
With the midfield department one where Wanderers are blessed with quantity as well as quality, however, Vela admits it will be a challenge – but one he will not shy away from.
“There is a lot of competition in midfield at the moment, but it’s just something that’s going to make me a stronger and better player in the long run,” said Vela.
“We’ve got six or seven really talented midfielders now so it’s not an easy position to break into.
“I’m confident, though, if I give my all, I’m more than capable of staking my claim for a spot.
“I’m just determined to make that breakthrough again.
“This season has been frustrating because I have had quite a few niggling injuries, so I’ve been playing with the Under-21s for the past few months to get my fitness back up.
“It’s a completely different game compared to the first team, but I just wanted to get back playing on a weekly basis so it’s a case of needs must.
“I’m more than happy to stay involved with the Under-21s, but I’m working towards getting back involved with the first-team on a regular basis.
“I just want to get as much experience as I can to make me a better player and hopefully nail down a regular starting place.”
Still aged only 20, Vela has been at Wanderers so long he feels like one of the more experienced players on the fringes of the first team.
He has figured just twice this season, his latest outing in the FA Cup third round victory against Blackpool.
But since overcoming his injury problems, the midfielder has featured regularly for Jamie Fullarton’s development squad.
And he says taking on the role of an old head with the younger members of the U21s following in his footsteps from the Whites Academy has matured him as a player.
Vela added: “I’ve found a lot of the younger lads do look at me as a leader in the team, which is a great feeling and good experience for the future.
“I’m still only 20 and I’ve experienced a lot in comparison to a few of the lads in there, so I just hope I can give them any advice they need and in turn help myself become a better player.
“I’ll take things that I’ve picked up in first-team training and share them with them so they have a taster of what’s to come. Hopefully, that will go some way in helping them to develop.
“It’s nice to see some of the younger lads like Zach (Clough) and Tom (Youngs) on the fringes of the first team now.
“Having been where they are, I know what it feels like.
“I’m confident they’ll get their chances. Tom has already had an opportunity when he came on in the Capital One Cup against Tranmere. They are such talented players that I think it’s only a matter of time before they do break through properly.”
Vela certainly knows what it is like to be inspired by first-teamers, admitting it was a huge incentive when he first broke through.
He is now having to do that all over again and is calling on those experiences as he looks to get back into the fold.
He said: “It has been a lot to take in being so young, but I think in doing that it’s helped me to develop personally, too, and mature a lot quicker than I would have done had I not been involved in football.
“I just want to get back playing regularly in front of the Bolton fans.
“You can’t beat playing at the Reebok – the fans have been great with me from the word go.
“I think the fact I’m a local lad who has come up through the academy helps.
“Fans love to see one of their own making it in the first team.
“Whenever I hear them cheering for me, it gives me a massive confidence boost.
“You look at some of the players who have come through in the past like Kevin Nolan and you just want to follow in their footsteps.
“I worked my way up through the system before eventually breaking into the first team.
“When I joined the club, Bolton had some absolutely amazing players in the team like Jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff, plus a lot of international players.
“When I came to watch players like that pulling on a Bolton shirt it was just unbelievable and a big incentive.
“It’s been a long road but I got there eventually.
“It’s always frustrating when you get injuries because it does knock you back a couple of months.
“But it has just made me more determined to bounce back.”