Sandro Rosell, president of the Catalan club FC Barcelona, has lashed out at Arsene Wenger and Arsenal after acquiring another one of their youth players, saying, "legally they have done nothing wrong, but it's a little immoral.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Barcelona and Arsenal have been exchanging players like this for years. But it was not until Barcelona came back for their former youth prodigy Cesc Fabregas that the relationship between these two great clubs soured.
Both Arsenal and Barcelona have been acquiring young players from other academies for years. So why is Rosell so upset?
Toral, who turned 16 just recently, has been brought up through Barca's famous La Masia youth system and is set to follow in the footsteps of Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas and swap a future at the Camp Nou with one at the Emirates.
Rosell said in an interview with Catalan television: "We told the Arsenal directors that we knew they were after Toral and we told them we didn't like it—as any president would have said. For us it's very important to keep this group of kids who have grown up together in La Masia. We don't like it that clubs come in with offers of money just before they turn 16.”
In response, Arsene Wenger said, “I love Barcelona, I love Catalonia. I have nothing against them, but when a player who is half English and Spanish wants to join us, why should we turn him down if it’s all legal? He has an English passport, his mother is from England.”
Fabregas also left Barca for Arsenal at the age of 16 and has developed into one of the game's leading midfielders.
Barca have long been linked with a move to bring Fabregas back to the Camp Nou and last summer made a bid for the Arsenal captain, which was denied by the club.
Speaking about their interest in Fabregas and whether any possible future negotiations might be affected by the Toral situation, Rosell said: "I don't think it will affect it because one matter has nothing to do with the other. Arsenal already know how we feel and that's it. If our coaches are interested in Cesc, then we'll see what happens in the summer."
All of these accusations of “immoral” behavior on Arsenals part reek of hypocrisy. Rosell says, "We don't like it that clubs come in with offers of money just before they turn 16. There are two philosophies; ours is to invest in La Masia and the other is to fish all over Europe for kids of 15 like Arsenal."
Barcelona does invest in their youth academy, there is no doubt about that. But many of their youth players are taken from other teams in other countries.
Perhaps Rosell isn’t aware of how many foreign players there are within Barcelona’s own youth system. The kids that are a part of their Cadete A squad, where Toral was found by Arsenal, also include: Elohor Godswill Ekpolo and Joseph Fabrice Ondoa Ebogo of Cameroon, Keita Balde and Mamadou Tounkara of Senegal and a few others in their other youth teams who are clearly not native to Catalonia.
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In 2009, Barcelona attempted to acquire the services of two of Arsenal youth players, Aneke and Afobe. Was it immoral when Barcelona tried to prize these two away from the Arsenal youth system before they signed a professional contract with Arsenal?
Barcelona have recently announced that there will be five “training campuses” taking place in England where we can assume Barcelona coaches will be seeing young players. Can we expect them to, upon seeing a talented young footballer, not make mention of such a player to the higher-ups at the club?
Barcelona’s “holier than thou” mentality has become apparent on the issue of acquiring youth players. Maybe they feel that if a player is taken from their youth system, they are entitled to have them back anytime that they want, or that it is wrong for any club to dare have an interest in one of their young players. Barcelona midfielder Xavi was quoted as saying in regard to Cesc, “If we don’t manage to get his signature this season, then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer.”
With statements like these flying around, how can it be said that Barcelona is handling this situation morally?
I’m not knocking the fact that Barcelona acquires young players from other systems as it is a part of the business. The problem with this situation is that people are hurling accusations of immoral practices when they or their club are engaging in a very similar practice themselves. It leaves them with no moral high ground what so ever.
Maybe there are two philosophies in that, Barcelona are able to get young players from all over the world from very young ages so that they can grow up in Barcelona’s youth team and Arsenal cannot do that. They can however, offer contracts to foreign players when they turn 16.
Wenger wants to get players as young as he can because he wants to get them trained in the Arsenal way of doing things so that they can fit in with the first team. He can't get players from all over the country or the world from the ages 8-12 in the same way that Barcelona does.
Each team has their advantage and disadvantage. Essentially though, there is not enough difference there for either team to claim a moral high ground over the other.