Former Arsenal scout reveals club were close to signing Lionel Messi
Gerard Piqué and Juan Mata are also among the names who Arsenal were interested in
Former Arsenal scout Francis Cagigao has revealed that Arsenal were "very close" to signing a 15-year-old Lionel Messi during his time at Barcelona's academy.
In an interview with the Guardian's Sid Lowe, Cagigao recalls his time working for Arsenal's recruitment department, which came to an end this summer as the club announced 55 redundancies.
“Messi, [Gerard] Piqué, [Juan] Mata were very, very close and there were others," Cagigao says.
"With Messi, work permit issues ensured we couldn’t get as close as we would have liked.
“And that’s all I can say on that. A lot get away – two, three, four a year – but I prefer to look at the ones we did get.”
Arsenal are not the only club to have been 'close' to signing a young Lionel Messi. In Gianluca Di Marzio's new book, the Italian journalist details how the Argentine superstar could have ended up at Chelsea after a phone call with José Mourinho.
Barcelona evidently knew they had a huge talent on their hands, though, and would not let him leave - a theme that dominated the summer transfer window as Messi tried to force his way out of the club.
Cagigao did manage to bring a number of Barcelona's other great young talents to north London though, in Cesc Fabregas and some years later, Hector Bellerín.
"A combination of very good technique, vision, awareness, intelligence. I was watching a boy with a GPS in his brain, maturity beyond his years. His decision-making was near perfect already," Cagigao said of a teenage Fabregas.
"Cesc showed how strong our scouting department had become, how well we could identify and then recruit,” Cagigao added.
"If [a player] is willing to sit around a table the first part’s done and whatever player we brought to the club, a 16-year-old fresh from Paris, Barcelona or Rome or an established professional, we sat him in front of Wenger – and Arsène insisted."