Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Slavery jibe irks Wenger

At a time when English football is under more scrutiny than ever before, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has defended the right of top clubs to pursue young talent from overseas.

Chelsea are ready to battle a transfer ban until 2011 imposed by Fifa for the manner in which they signed Gael Kakuta from French side Lens two years ago, while UEFA president Michel Platini is attempting to push through a fresh ruling to stop the transfer of players under the age of 18 in the wake of the saga that has stunned football.

Platini, along with FIFA's Sepp Blatter, refer to the pursuit of such young players as “child slavery” and “child trafficking”.

However, Wenger is adamant that Premier League clubs have every right to sign talent from abroad.

Wenger has been criticised in the past for the way he signed players such as Cesc Fabregas and Fran Merida from Barcelona, but is passionate about the issue.

“Look at the alternative,” he said.

“If you ban players from moving before the age of 18, you know what will happen? The player will be sold anyway. To whom? To agents. At what age? At 13, 14. Where will they go? Not to top-level clubs with top-level education.

“They will go to clubs who have been bought by business people, of a very low level, and will stay there until the age of 18 waiting to be sold. The money will go out of the game.

“If your players cannot move to the best clubs, I believe they will not improve.

“If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put it into a good music school, not in an average one. So why should that not happen in football?

“If a player goes to Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, it is all clean and he gets a good education.”

Wenger does not argue that clubs from which boys are signed do not deserve appropriate compensation, but he stressed the reasons behind the necessity to find players away from England.

“It will still carry on because even if they stop it for one or two years it will still happen,” he insisted.

“Clubs will just make future agreements with the clubs to sign them at 18 when they are 16. Are they really going to wait?

“England is in a weak position for taking young players because they inflict a big handicap on themselves by the fact that they have no access to Asian players, no access to South American players, no access to African players.

“On top of that, if it was impossible to take European players then you will have a big handicap in the future for English football.

“What is happening now is a case that I have fought for a long, long time against — people with regressive ideas.

“If you have a good national team today, it just proves it conforms to what I have preached for a long, long time – don't hide the best players in England from being exposed with the best ones, that will make them weaker.”

The term “child slavery” does not sit well with Arsenal's French manager either.

“FIFA are welcome to Arsenal at any time, I'll show them what we do and how we treat the boys,” he said.

“That's not the case everywhere. In some places in Brazil some boys do not have the same conditions or treatment that we have here. Medically, psychologically, and 'footballistically.'

“It is ridiculous (to call it child slavery). Some people in France say we have signed 30 or 40 players, but we have no room for that many players!

“We sign one or two. When we buy a young boy we program and we give him a chance to play. We promote, we educate and we integrate. That's why we have success.”

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