Belfast Telegraph

Wenger reveals Lionel Messi deal was so close

By Jim Van Wijk

Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Lionel Messi could have joined Arsenal from Barcelona as a teenager along with Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.

Argentina superstar Messi developed into one of the world's greatest players at the Nou Camp, but was close to considering a switch to England when he was 15 in the Barcelona Academy.

A recent biography suggests the potential deal broke down because Arsenal were unable to purchase accommodation for Messi's family, who were keen to join him in London, although the South American would still have needed to secure a work permit.

Despite all of their efforts, Arsenal boss Wenger - who also scouted the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Didier Drogba when they were raw talents - believes the player just felt settled in Spain rather than take a chance on a switch to England.

"I think in the end, he was not so keen to move, because it was at a period where Fabregas came, and Fabregas and Messi played in the same team (at Barcelona Academy). We wanted to take Fabregas, Messi and Pique. It worked only for Fabregas," said Wenger.

"It was not completely down to a flat in the end. It was down to the fact that, in the end, Messi was comfortable at Barcelona."

Wenger, meanwhile, has warned he cannot offer guarantees of a place in the starting XI to Danny Welbeck or anyone else in his squad.

England striker Welbeck is expected to overcome a minor hamstring problem suffered on international duty to face his former club Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium today.

France forward Olivier Giroud is back in contention following three months out with a broken leg while Theo Walcott, doubtful because of a groin problem, offers another option in attack along with Alexis Sanchez.

German Lukas Podolski is another frustrated by a lack of first-team opportunities, but Wenger insists that is all part and parcel of competition at a leading club.

"You can only select 11 players. We have an abundance of offensive players," said Wenger. "Some of them do not get the chance to play, and it is frustrating for them, I can understand. Unfortunately you have to make a decision."

Asked whether Giroud faced a battle to regain his position, Wenger said: "There is always a fight because we have a lot of offensive options.

"Welbeck can play in different positions up front and there is room for both of them to start some games. Of course it's a fight."

Wenger suggested there would be no concessions made on who was to be the leading forward.

"One of the main reasons Welbeck signed was that he wanted to play. (To play as a central striker) was not a condition, it was just that he plays," he said.

"You have goalscoring records which are absolutely outstanding from players who play wide or central, that is not the problem. When you are a player, you want to play."

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