In 2003, a 16-year-old Spaniard left Barcelona for Arsenal on a free transfer, as he was not under contract. Two years later, another 15-year-old Spaniard transferred from Barcelona to Arsenal in similar circumstances.
Arsenal are not the only club to sign foreign youngsters. Bayern Munich singed a 15-year-old Roque Santa Cruz, Manchester United signed the Da Silva twins, and Barcelona signed Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old. One reason was Barca offered to pay for his medical care. Federico Macheda, Alberto Massacci, and Daniel Petrucci joined the club as their fathers were offered jobs at Old Trafford.
This is known in the football world as poaching.
Arsene Wenger has come under scrutiny for signing foreign youngsters, now Sir Alex Ferguson is now facing attacks from the Italian media and Carlos Alberto, who accused Sir Alex of raping Brazil.
Morally and ethically, poaching youngsters is wrong; clubs should really promote from within. However, is it morally or ethically right when a player is bought for £80 million? Or, if a club pays a player £200,000 a-week after tax?
The argument coming from UEFA and FIFA, is that these players that are being poached are far too young, to move abroad. They are too immature to make these decisions. Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter are desperate to make Europe more competitive. Both are planning to impose laws that restrict players from moving who are under the age of 23.
The real reason why clubs whose starlets are poached are so aggrieved is because the money they have lost. Macheda, Massacci, Petrucci, Pogba, the Da Silva twins, and Merida are all world class talents who are potentially £30 million. Fabregas and Messi are world-class players, potentially worth more.
Paying Paul Pogba's family vast sums of money to get the player is seen by many as wrong. Bribing a player's family on the face of it is wrong, but ask yourself: Would you turn down the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the world and improve your family's quality of life?
Can you really say that Barcelona have poached Lionel Messi? Would he have reached the heights of superstardom at the same rate? Would he even have a career in football due to his growth deficiency?
In some ways Barcelona only have themselves to blame in losing Cesc Fabregas. Scoring 30 goals in a defensive midfield position should have pushed Fabregas through the ranks quicker, but it didn't. Fabregas even considered Espanyol. Sandro Rossella wanted to keep him, but the coaching staff thought he was expendable.
Arsene Wenger spotted two superb playmakers in the form of Cesc Fabregas and Fran Merida. The former was suffocating in the reserves, and the latter's parents knew the chances of Fran breaking into the first team were slim.
Would Fabregas have risen to superstardom at the same rate as he has done at Arsenal? Who knows, he could have followed a similar path of Xavi Torres or Marc Crosas.
The Brazilian, French, Spanish, and Italian national teams will benefit even further with the "poached youngsters" playing at the highest level from a young age, all look destined for the top. Look at the impact Fabregas has had on the Spanish national team.
The facts are this: No young footballer in the world would refuse the chance to join one of the best clubs in the world. No young player would refuse the chance to improve their family's quality of life as well as their own.
Football is a game which is changing—18 is the new 21. Denying a player a once in a lifetime chance to play for a Manchester United or a Barcelona is wrong when you consider that one serious injury can end a career.
Poaching youngsters is not as bad as Platini and Blatter claim. Football as whole has benefited from watching Messi and Fabregas. It could also be argued that clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Man City are to blame, as clubs with fewer resources cannot afford to compete in the transfer market.
So, if FIFA and UEFA want to impose laws on poaching, mainly on the English clubs hence the six-plus-five rule, they may want to impose other laws on spending and salary caps all across world football.
Or the same question will be asked, are FIFA and UEFA anti-English?
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