Fresh details have emerged of Arsenal's failed attempt to sign Lionel Messi while he was still a youth team player at Barcelona.
Messi went on to become a legendary player at the Nou Camp, winning 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues. But things could have been very different had Arsenal been successful in their attempts to bring him to England before he even made his debut.
Back in 2003, the Gunners were working to bring in Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and also had their eye on other youth team players at the Spanish giants. One of them was Messi, with former Arsenal scout Francis Cagigao now revealing several meetings were held.
"The first time I saw him was in Lloret de Mar, at the MIC tournament, when he just turned 15. He was already a phenomenon. Messi's situation was not regulated and it was impossible for him to have a work permit in the UK," Cagigao told AS.
"He had several meetings with Horacio Gaggioli, his representative at the time, but it was impossible. The Piqué thing was not done due to a somewhat complex bureaucratic issue. In the end we signed Cesc Fábregas from that great Barça cadet team.
"There is an Arsenal before Wenger and another after him. The current Arsenal could not be understood without his presence there for so many years. That's why he has a statue in the stadium.
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"I think he revolutionized English football when he arrived and he is the most successful coach in the club's history, winning three leagues, eight cups, being a Champions League finalist... and he did it with budgets that today would be considered ridiculous."
The inability to gain a work permit for Messi ultimately sunk Arsenal's hopes of bringing Messi to England. Arsene Wenger was manager of the Gunners at the time and later lamented the failure to bring in the Argentine attacker.
“We were in discussions with [Messi] when we bought Fabregas, because Messi played [with him]. You can realise sometimes what fantastic youth teams you had before when you’re a club like Barcelona," he told beIN Sports in 2019.
"In the same team, Messi, [Gerard] Pique and Fabregas. Pique and Fabregas came to England [with Manchester United and Arsenal respectively], Messi stayed in Spain. We were interested in him, but he was untouchable at the time."
Just over a year after Arsenal attempted to sign him, Messi was handed his senior debut at Barcelona. He would go on to stay at the Nou Camp until 2021, becoming the club's record appearance maker and record goalscorer, as well as winning seven Ballon d'Ors.
The superstar would finally leave the Nou Camp in the summer of 2021, joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. He won Ligue 1 with the French giants last season, though his career may have turned out very differently had Arsenal succeeded in their move.