Recently departed head of recruitment Francis Cagigao has opened up on his time at Arsenal and revealed just how close the club were to signing Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cagigao spent more than two decades with the north London side before being one of 55 staff members to be made redundant last month, the talent spotter widely credited with bringing a host of names to the club including the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin and Santi Cazorla.
The 50-year-old worked closely alongside Arsene Wenger for much of his time with the Gunners and has now lifted the lid on some of the Frenchman’s greatest transfer revelations, the former Arsenal boss having long been ridiculed over his namedropping of players he almost signed.
Amongst those include multiple Ballon d’Or winners in Messi and Ronaldo, with Cagigao confirming that the former was part of an ambitious triple swoop on Barcelona, the north London side attempting to sign the Argentine alongside both Gerard Pique and eventual capture Fabregas before work permit issues halted the deal.
“We had identified Messi and we wouldn’t have been the only ones,” Cagigao told Goal. “I remember there were a couple of Italian clubs and obviously Spanish clubs who were very aware of Messi.
“But he couldn’t play national level because of the restriction on his status in the country at the time. He could only play regional games for Barcelona.
Arsene Wenger on almost signing Lionel Messi for Arsenal 🤣 pic.twitter.com/3wlKpM3P6n
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 18, 2020
“So, yes, there were talks between myself and representatives, and we got a very good feeling that there was a possibility that the player would want to join us.
“But, once we’d delved into the situation and looked at it from a legal point of view, we very quickly saw that it actually couldn’t happen. It was impossible. So, that was discarded once we saw that.”
Pique was another player Arsenal were interested in signing from Catalonia, only for contract issues to prevent a deal, with the defender going on to sign for Premier League rivals Manchester United just months later.
“We were already well down the line with [Pique] but, in the end, we were able to sign only Cesc,” Cagigao said.
“With Gerard, there was a difference of opinion contractually and he joined Manchester United six months after that.”
Amongst the most notable names on Wenger’s list of nearly signings is Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Frenchman revealing that missing out on the Portuguese superstar was his biggest transfer regret.
The teenage winger eventually signed for Manchester United where he would star for the Old Trafford outfit, helping the club to three Premier League titles and the Champions League, in addition to winning the first of his five career Ballon d’Ors.
“He was very close to coming here,” Wenger said back in 2014. “He has a No 9 shirt with Ronaldo on the back from Arsenal Football Club. What happened was that Carlos Queiroz went to Manchester United and they snapped him away from us because he knew him from Sporting.”
Imagine what could've been … pic.twitter.com/J9njlBaVj0
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 22, 2019
Cagigao has backed Wenger’s claims over how close Arsenal came to signing the star from Sporting Lisbon, revealing Ronaldo was a player the club had closely monitored, only for them to be unable to secure his services.
“That was very close to happening,” he added. “Obviously, he was a player we had looked at a lot at youth level.
”We’ve always had a very strong network but it’s one thing knowing about a player; it’s another thing being able to sign a player. They are two completely different things.
“But we had a great understanding of the market and what was out there. That’s what you need in your department. To be very proactive and efficient in terms of compiling information and knowing what’s out there.”