It has been revealed that Argentine star Lionel Messi nearly signed for Arsenal as a 16 year old. The Barcelona forward, who is arguably the best player in the world right now, recently crossed the 400 goal mark of his career. But when he was just a youngster, he along with fellow trainees Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, were the subject of much interest from English clubs, Arsenal in particular.
Fabregas did sign for the Gunners at the age of 16 and he went on to make more than 200 appearances for the Gunners before he returned to Barcelona in 2011. His career at Arsenal was a memorable one, and he rose to the position of club captain before departing.
Pique, meanwhile, moved to Manchester United in 2004. He played just 12 league matches in four years (which included a season on loan at Real Zaragoza) before returning to Barcelona, where he became the focal point of the defence and a regular in the Spanish national team.
Messi, however, was personally courted by Wenger, who even met the Argentine’s parents and laid out a detailed plan about Messi’s move to England and his future, including a promise to fast track him to the first team. Both the forward and his parents were impressed by the Frenchman, and a deal in principle was agreed. However, Messi faced enormous problems in securing a work permit to move to England, and eventually this lead to the deal being called off. Messi remained at Barcelona.
Messi made his debut for Barcelona when he was 17 years, 114 days old under Frank Rijkaard, but he had to wait until the 2006-07 season before he really established himself as a first choice. By then Fabregas had started a Champions League final against Barcelona at the Stade de France. Messi was on the bench that night alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Since attempting to sign the Argentine, Arsenal have won three trophies (one Premier League and two FA Cups). Messi, on the other hand, has won 13 major honours with Barcelona – La Liga six times, three Champions Leagues, two Spanish Cups and two World Club Cups. He has also won the Ballon d’Or four times, consecutively. As such, Wenger and the rest of us can only wonder what might have been, had a work permit been granted.