Barcelona president Sandro Rosell last night labelled Arsenal "immoral" after they signed 16-year-old Jon Toral from the club's famous La Masia youth academy.
Speaking on Catalan television programme Efectivament, Rosell said: "We explained to Arsenal that we knew they were chasing Toral and we told them it was not correct. For us, it is important that we keep these youngsters who grow up in La Masia. Now they come with money and take the players. Legally they have done nothing wrong but we told them it was immoral."
Asked about the chances of re-signing Cesc Fabregas, who they lost in similar circumstances in 2003, Rosell added: "I believe that Barcelona should have the best players in the world, never forgetting the club's economy and always listening to what the coach wants. The past must be forgotten. Cesc was very young and possibly someone else was deciding for him. I am sure he would accept coming back to Barça."
Toral – whose mother is English – will join the Gunners on 1 July. He is not the first player to join Arsenal after an education at La Masia. Fabregas left Barcelona for north London in 2003. Fran Merida made the same journey in 2005, but left for Atletico Madrid last summer, while Ignasi Miquel, who made his Arsenal debut last Sunday against Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, joined from Barcelona in 2008.
The fact that 16-year-olds in Spain are not allowed to sign professional contracts has helped clubs in England, where the rules are different, to recruit promising players from Spanish academies in recent years.
This is not the first time Arsenal have caused consternation in Catalonia. Former Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, said this month that "the English come here to do fishing", in reference both to Arsenal's signings and to Manchester United's purchase of Gerard Pique.
Barcelona will receive a fee of £350,000 for Toral. His agent is Pere Guardiola, the brother of the current Barcelona coach, Pep, who yesterday signed a 12-month contract extension, which should keep him at the club until at least June 2012.Reuse content