Wenger seeks to work old magic on 'Werder nobody'

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The Independent Football

When Amaury Bischoff first told Werder Bremen at the end of last month that he was leaving the Bundesliga club for Arsenal, the German tabloid Bild responded in typically blunt fashion. "Werder nobody signs for Arsenal" was their take on a player who surely proves there is no limit to Arsène Wenger's belief that he can build a team out of hitherto undiscovered talent.

Arsenal completed their third signing of the summer yesterday with the free transfer of the Portuguese midfielder, who had refused to sign a new contract for Werder. Virtually unknown in Portugal, and notoriously injury-prone so far in his career, the 21-year-old is not exactly the big-name signing anticipated of Wenger all summer.

Remarkably he has played just 16 minutes of senior football for Werder, as a substitute against Celta Vigo in the Uefa Cup last year. Arsenal have tracked his progress for some time but waited until this summer to pick him up on a Bosman free transfer and to check that he would recover from his injuries. Bischoff has undergone two operations on his groin, although the club said this week that he would be fit to join up with the squad for this weekend's Emirates Cup games.

As leftfield signings go, this has the potential to be Wenger's greatest coup yet, on the proviso that Bischoff turns out to be as good as the Arsenal manager hopes he is. While Wenger has often cast his net wide in order to sign players from Africa and South America, this particular player has come from very close to home. Bischoff's father is French, from Alsace to be precise, which is the region where Wenger grew up as a child in the post-war era.

It is through his Portuguese mother that Bischoff qualifies to play for Portugal, despite having represented France at Under-18 level. He has chosen to be available for the Portugal Under-21 side, although injuries have prevented him from actually playing for them yet despite having been called up for squads. The Portuguese Football Federation was alerted to Bischoff by the Portugal striker Hugo Almeida, who plays at Werder.

Despite his having made minimal impact at senior level with Werder, their technical director Klaus Allofs tried hard to persuade Bischoff to stay at the club but he rejected the new deals offered to him. The Portuguese Football Federation had called him up to play in the Under-20 World Cup in Canada last year but injury prevented him from playing. They were suspicious that Werder discouraged the player because they were concerned about him being scouted by bigger European clubs.

Few escape the eye of Wenger and his scouts, however, and Bischoff, who can play in the centre of midfield or on the right, has a good chance of figuring this season with Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini already departed. His age means that he can no longer be considered one of the kids, certainly not by Arsenal's standards – he is 35 days older than Cesc Fabregas.

It is understood that Wenger has not ruled out considering Jack Wilshere, the precocious 16-year-old from Hertfordshire who has played for Arsenal this summer, as a first-team player once the season begins. With two goals in a 10-2 friendly win in Austria, Wilshere has about as much senior experience as Bischoff, who has played for the amateur French side SR Colmar as well as Strasbourg, where Wenger himself had a brief but forgettable stint as a player in the Seventies.

Wenger boys: Hidden gems

Luke Freeman

Wenger paid Gillingham £200,000 for the 15-year-old striker last season, even though Freeman had made just one substitute appearance.

Fran Merida

Followed the same path as Cesc Fabregas, leaving Barcelona's academy and joining Arsenal in 2006 when the talented midfielder was just 16. Spent last season at Real Sociedad.

Carlos Vela

Arsenal paid £2.5m to Chivas Guadalajara to land the then 16-year-old striker after he helped Mexico to win the Under-17 World Championship in 2005. tipped for first-team opportunities after loans to Spanish clubs. Scored in friendly last night.

Gael Clichy

First-choice left-back who replaced the departed Ashley Cole two years ago. Acquired from Cannes for just £250,000 in 2003 when 18 years old.

Kolo Toure

Snapped up for £150,000 from Ivory Coast side ASEC Abidjan in 2002. Key part in the 2004 "Invincibles" undefeated Premier League campaign and one of Europe's best centre-halves.

Nicolas Anelka

Unknown 18-year-old striker whom Wenger bought for £500,000 from Paris St-Germain in 1997. After helping Arsenal win the Double in 1998, he was sold to Real Madrid for £23m two years later.

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