Arsenal came extremely close to signing Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique in 2003, but ultimately only managed to get their hands on Francesc Fabregas, according to a new report published in the Daily Mail.
The British publication has revealed that Arsene Wenger was keen on luring all three players - then burgeoning starlets - to north London, and attempted to promise them a far easier route to first-team football than would be available at Barcelona.
However the Frenchman’s plans were scuppered when work-permit issues virtually ruled out any chance of Messi moving to the Premier League whilst he was so young, and Pique ended up at rivals Manchester United. Wenger did get his hands on Fabregas, who went on to become club captain before his return to Catalonia in 2011.
2003 and 2004 saw Barcelona make a relative cull of their youth system due to financial constraints, with a number of players, Fabregas and Pique included, allowed to leave on the cheap for pastures new. Yet, whilst the mass exodus was considered a necessary measure, Messi was kept on as a player of vital importance for the future.
By that point the diminutive Argentine wonderkid had already established himself as an excellent prospect in the fabled La Masia academy, and then-boss Frank Rijkaard handed him his debut in soon after in 2005. It could have been oh so different however, with Messi said to have been interested in a sensational switch to work under Wenger.
It’s claimed the aforementioned work-permit issues were the main cause of the audaciously proposed move falling through, which will certainly be a source of frustration for Gunners fans now, given how good a player he has become.
On top of that Wenger was also unable to land Pique, despite the fact that he moved around a year later to Old Trafford. The Spaniard spent four years with United, under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, before, like Fabregas, returning to Barcelona to take his place in the first-team once he had become more experienced.
Once again the Emirates faithful might ponder what might have been had Pique moved to Arsenal instead eleven years ago, with the centre-back being ranked amongst the most composed central defenders in world football.
Despite that though any reminiscing from Wenger will have to be put on hold until at least after this weekend, as he’ll coincidentally be facing up against Fabregas’s new club Chelsea. The Blues sit top of the Premier League, with the former Arsenal captain having hit the ground running upon his return to England.