Arsenal tried to sign both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi early in their careers before they became the superstars they are today.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and chairman David Dein have revealed how they tried to sign Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The duo became targets for Arsenal around 20 years ago as they took their first steps into a football career.
Now Wenger and Dein have lifted the lid on how they attempted to sign the players during an event for the Twinning Project on Monday night at the London Palladium.
How Arsenal lost Cristiano Ronaldo
Dein, who left Arsenal in 2007, explained how he met a 17-year-old Ronaldo for dinner in Portugal. Talks went well and the teenager even gave him his Sporting CP jersey. However, almost out of the blue, Manchester United swooped in and signed the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner instead.
“We are now turning the clock back when Cristiano was 17 and playing in the Portuguese Under-19 team,” said Dein.
“He was spotted by our chief scout. 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 afterward’.
“We had dinner at a sort of 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 the 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.”
The former Gunners vice-chairman added: “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.”
Last year, Wenger discussed how he invited Ronaldo to Arsenal’s training ground in November 2002 and gave him an Arsenal shirt.
🗣️ Wenger on nearly signing Ronaldo for Arsenal: "We had an agreement with Sporting, Man United just outbid us quickly and took Ronaldo. But we had an agreement. He had the shirt of Arsenal, I had lunch with him and his mother at the training ground!" pic.twitter.com/PtSr1Io1QC
— CaughtOffside (@caughtoffside) October 11, 2020
How about Messi?
Wenger, who signed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona’s youth academy, opened up on how it ended up being impossible for him to bring a young Messi to north London.
“Messi we were interested in, but it was not possible,” said the Frenchman.
“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.”
Arsène Wenger shares an embrace with former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas after his event with David Dein at the London Palladium last night. #afc
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) November 9, 2021