Arsene Wenger has on several occasions mentioned the players he missed out on signing since he became Arsenal manager. While the pick of the bunch has been Cristiano Ronaldo, who came so close to joining Arsenal that he was even at London Colney before he joined Manchester United in 2003.
In spite of this, few know about the other players that came so close to joining Arsenal in the past.
Cesc Fabregas move to Arsenal in 2003 as a 16 year old could have been better if other players who became high profile players had followed suit. This is according to Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
According to him through a revelation from his new book titled “Messi” he revealed that Arsenal had a deal in place to sign Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, which would have seen both players arrive North London along with Cesc Fabregas.
The Catalan midfielder went on to have a stellar eight years with Arsenal, which culminated in him being appointed the club’s second youngest captain after Tony Adams. He eventually re-joined Barcelona in 2011 after Arsenal failed to build a title winning side with the Spaniard as the leader.
However, Guillem Balague revealed how it could have been better for Arsenal if the other duo had joined Fabregas to move to Arsenal.
He started with a scouting trip undertaken by Arsene Wenger’s Spanish scout Francis Cagigao. He was said to have been aware of Fabregas, Pique and Messi as far back as 2002. Having attended a youth tournament in which the trio was involved for a Barcelona Cadet side.
According to the reports, the Arsenal scout searched for Messi’s agent Horacio Gaggioli with a view to offering the player the chance to fasten his path to first team football at Arsenal, something he was not going to get at Barcelona at the time.
Part of Guillem Balague’s book dealing with Arsenal’s scout discussion with Messi read thus:
“That night Francis had dinner with the agent and expressed an interest in Messi, and interest that culminated in an offer being passed to the boy’s father Jorge.”
“From that moment the lines of communication between Arsenal and the Messi’s were open, Cesc and Pique were also target.
He added further
“Cagigaon(Arsenal’s scout) was one of the few, indeed, probably the only, European scouts at these tournaments, so the offer from Arsenal was Leo’s first from a foreign club since he had Barcelona.”
The deal did not materialise though, the issue of work permit and the fact that there was no guarantee that the family would be offered a flat put paid to any deal.
The revelation also extends to what could have been a triple swoop for three of Barcelona’s players. Gerard Pique was also revealed to have agreed a deal with Arsenal according to Guillem Balague, but the defender’s agent was said to have put a death knell on the deal, he was not prepared to wait for his client to turn 16 before the deal could be announced. The deal was said to have been cancelled, while the young Pique joined Manchester United instead.
The revelations are startling if they are actually true. There have been reports in the past that Cesc Fabregas was not the only La Masia Academy product that Arsenal wanted to sign in 2003. Lionel Messi has been mentioned on several occasions, but a work permit issue was what contributed to why a deal did not happen.
Those where the years when Arsenal was ahead of other clubs in scouting missions, in recent times, the scouting of club has left much to be desired. As the quality of players signed via scouting has declined, and Arsene Wenger’s mention in the AGM that he could not find a defender was an indictment on the scouting of the club.