Arsenal and Barcelona have been getting to know each other quite well recently, what with their four encounters in the last two seasons’ Champions League knock out phases. Arsenal must be sick of the sight of the Catalan giants stunting any ambitions they have of Champions League success. However, Arsenal seem to have come up with an ingenious way of getting their own back. The clever ploy, which Arsenal first exploited in 2003 with the capture of a certain Cesc Fabregas, is poaching Barcelona’s brightest young talents before they have even stepped out of the gates of La Masia (Barcelona’s football academy). In addition to Fabregas, Arsenal have signed Fran Merida, now with Atletico Madrid, Ignasi Miquel and Jon Miguel Toral Harper who will join at the end of the season. Arsenal are also tracking 15 year old Xavi Quintilla. These youngsters have all been schooled through Barcelona’s renowned youth set up and Arsenal seem to be reaping the benefits.
This hardly seems fair does it? Whatever your take on the situation, Arsenal can quite rightly point out, that they aren’t breaking any codes of conduct or laws with these signings. The youngsters can’t sign professional contracts in Spain until they are 18 years old, so all Arsenal have to do is pay a small compensation fee to Barca. Arsenal have the luxury in this country of being able to open negotiations with players under the age of 18, as the age a player can sign a professional contract is 16. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona have been left incensed by the loss of their future starlets and Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has branded Arsenal’s recent acquisition of Toral Harper as “legal but immoral”. Do Barcelona have grounds to feel aggrieved? In my view they certainly do, but as long as this loophole remains Spanish clubs are left wide open to lose their best young players. However, if the opportunity is there for teams like Arsenal to legally sign quality players, some would argue, immoral or not, why would they turn this chance down?
Arsenal fans will be quick to point out in their defence that Barcelona have acted just as immorally over the last two years in their pursuit of their skipper, Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas’ future has been the constant subject of speculation and it’s common knowledge that Barcelona registered substantial bids for the Spanish International on more than one occasion. Fabregas is under contract with Arsenal and knowing his services are wanted by his boyhood club has unsettled him. Arsenal will quite rightfully suggest that while Fabregas is under contract with them, Barca’s constant barracking of their player surely carries more deceit than their legal purchase of Barca’s youth players. If this is true or not is of course a matter of opinion.
Arsenal and Barcelona relations have slowly deteriorated ever since the Gunners snapped up Fabregas, and with the recent signing of Toral Harper and the ongoing feud over Fabregas’ future it doesn’t show any signs of relenting. This situation will have many divided opinions on who is in the right and wrong. It is rumoured that Toral Harper had no intention on signing a contract with Barcelona anyway, so in the light of this does it make Arsenal’s approach any less immoral? To add more irons to the fire Toral Harper’s agent, who engineered the move, is Barcelona manager Pepe Guardiola’s brother!
The whole situation is something that clearly needs addressing by the governing bodies. I’m quite shocked there has not been a ruling implemented by FIFA before now. It doesn’t seem right to me that a player who is coached from a child through a club’s development system can just be plucked by another team as they begin to prosper. However, the feasibility to sanction any ruling as a result of the laws in place in each country is something that will prove decisive.