Arsene Wenger and former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein have revealed how they let the two greatest footballers of all time slip through their grasp.
Dein and Wenger were eager to bring both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to Highbury as teenagers, having tracked their progress at Sporting Lisbon and Barcelona respectively.
The period in question was around 2002-2003 before Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United and Cesc Fabregas’ arrival at Arsenal, when the Gunners regularly competed for the Premier League title.
And the two Arsenal legends, who were speaking at an event for the Twinning Project on Monday night at the London Palladium, explained exactly how the Gunners missed out on two prospects who went on to win 11 Ballon d’Ors between them.
Wenger said: “Messi we were interested in, but it was not possible.
“They [Barcelona] had Fabregas, Messi and [Gerard] Pique in the same generation. We tried to get [them]. Messi was not possible, Barcelona extended it [his contract]. Fabregas wanted to leave, Pique as well.
“He [Pique] landed at Manchester United and Cesc joined us. I refuse to go into that game, because if I go into my room and write on the wall all the players I miss out on, I don’t finish well my life.”
Speaking on missing out on Ronaldo, Dein added: “We are now turning the clock back when Cristiano was 17 and playing in the Portuguese Under-19 team.
“He was spotted by our chief scout [Francis Cagigao]. Arsene said: ‘Look, do you want to go over and see him play?’ I said: ‘Yeah sure, I’ll go across’.
“I went with our chief scout and I remember seeing the Portuguese Under-19 team play and Cristiano did really well.
“Then the agent, who was with us at the time, said: ‘Well, believe it or not he is going to meet us for dinner afterwards’.
Do you think Ronaldo and Messi still would have become world class at Arsenal? Let us know in the comments section.
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“We had a dinner at a sort of a curb-side restaurant. He was a really nice guy and he actually gave me his shirt. It’s one of several shirts that I’ve got hanging in my cupboard at home. He gave me his shirt that he played in.
“We discussed a little bit of money and the agent said: ‘Well, let him think about it overnight’. Then Cristiano said: ‘I’ve got to go now, my bus is going’.
“He jumped on his bus and he went home. The following day I was discussing with the agent and about six hours later Manchester United blew us out of the water.
“That was the Cristiano Ronaldo story. I think we were being used a little bit as a stalking house, because I think he was always going to go to Manchester United at the time.”
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