Lionel Messi

Sky Sports Guillem Balangue has revealed how Arsenal were on the verge of signing Lionel Messi from Barcelona as a 15-year-old.

The Gunners were deeply interested in the diminutive Argentine and were doing everything in their power to talk to his agent while they were in Spain securing a deal with Cesc Fabregas, who eventually made his way to north London.

Gerard Pique was another player on the cards for Arsenal but Messi was the one that got away, in spite of scout Francis Cagigao doing everything in his power to convince Messi's father to let him make the trip to England.

Eventually the deal broke down due to the fact that the Gunners could not afford the Messi family a flat in north London and also the unlikelihood of securing a work permit for the South American.

It would have been the coup of the millennium for Arsenal if they had convinced his parents to allow Messi, arguably the best player in the world, to leave the Spanish shores and join the Arsenal team.

"The Messis listened to what Arsenal had to say but they were not about to have their heads turned. Obstacles were apparent in any potential agreement," Balague said.

"The English club could not offer a flat for the family, and there would be difficulty obtaining a work permit. Bit by bit points of mutual interest evaporated until the offer lay dead in the water. But they left Jorge with a message: 'Any time you encounter problems, remember, our club wants him.' In any case, Arsenal had managed to secure the signings of Pique and Cesc. Well, almost.

"Pique travelled to London to see their training facilities, everything was agreed and confirmed, only for a legal matter to delay the process: he was not yet old enough to sign and Arsenal suggested that they should make a verbal agreement that would be confirmed in a year's time, when he was 16. The same agreement that they worked out with Cesc. Pique (or, to be precise, his agents) said no."