Former Arsenal scout disagrees with Wenger over Messi transfer

Former Arsenal talent-spotter Francis Cagigao says the Gunners weren't as close to signing Lionel Messi as Arsene Wenger would have you believe.

The tale of how close Wenger once came to tempting a young Messi to the club is one that has often been told by Gunners supporters, with the Argentinean talent one of three young stars at the Catalan club that the Gunners were looking at back in 2003.

Arsenal did eventually sign one of that trio, Cesc Fabregas, while they came close to doing a deal to bring Gerard Pique to North London before he chose to join Manchester United.

But according to Cagigao, the move for Messi was something of a non-starter.

"I think Arsene stated while manager that we were close to signing Messi," the Gunners' former head of recruitment – who left the club this summer – told BBC Sport.

"I wouldn't go as far as saying we were close. We were there or thereabouts and discussions took place with his representatives.

"He had issues with a work permit, so that was discarded."

Cagigao also opened up on the near miss the club had with Pique, who could have made the move if it wasn't for an issue with his contract.

"It's public knowledge that Pique came inches away from signing a contract with us and signed for Manchester United six months later," he added.

"The only thing I can say is there was some contractual disagreement between the club and Gerard's representatives at the time and it didn't go forward because of those."

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However Arsenal did complete their move for Fabregas, who went on spend eight years at the club and become their captain before his move back to Barca.

"He was playing in the best under-16s side I've seen until this day," continued Cagigao.

"He had to come to London by himself. I knew it was going to be tough but the maturity he showed was exceptional.

"Arsene used to call it that smell for the game – that smell for something special. Of course, you have to quantify it and measure it. You would say that very quickly of someone like Fabregas, for his intelligence, his awareness, for his football brain."

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