Laporta fury at English raids on Barça youth

The Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, has launched a fierce attack on English clubs for signing some of the club's best young talent.

The Spanish and European champions invest heavily in their football academy but have watched Premiership clubs take their rising talents for nominal fees in recent years.

The highest profile player to have left the Nou Camp for England is Cesc Fabregas, the Spanish international midfielder who played a major role in Arsenal reaching the Champions' League final, but they have also lost Gerard Pique to Manchester United and are now on the verge of losing the promising midfielder Fran Merida, again to Arsenal.

"We are a club that has invested €7m [around £4.8m] in our youth team this season," said Laporta during a coaching clinic in the Canary Islands.

"But we have a big problem with English clubs who are targeting our youngsters. Before they used to do it with French clubs and now it seems as though we are next.

"The problem is that English clubs don't have their own youth system [sic] and so they have to find players elsewhere. The British clubs offer astronomical figures to kids who are 14, 15 and 16, a figure that, for ethical reasons, we cannot equal.

"We had this situation with Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and now with Fran Merida."

The 19-year-old defender Pique joined Manchester United from Barcelona in July 2004 while Arsenal could sign Merida without spending a penny because of a legal loophole. The player's parents had put pen to paper on a Barça contract on his behalf in 2003 - the club's youth players have to sign an amateur contract and a pre-working contract - but the contract, which needed three club signatures, had only one.

"The player has been on trial with Arsenal in recent weeks," said the player's agent, Joseba Diaz, who was also the man responsible for taking Fabregas to Arsenal, added: "He is currently on holiday but he will not be returning to Barcelona."

Laporta is hoping that football's governing bodies can resolve the matter. "The international organisations should regulate this issue," he said. "But we are still happy because we can be proud to have almost 50 per cent of our team composed of youth team players."

The Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard believes it was a mark of the man that Thierry Henry pledged his future to Arsenal after they had lost the Champions' League final.

The Gunners lost 2-1 to Barça last week but were boosted by Henry's decision to sign a new four-year contract. Rijkaard, who had been interested in signing the France striker, said: "To me Henry appears a sound person who took the decision which he believed was the best... He did not want to let down the club and I understand that."

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