The Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger yesterday defended the right of leading clubs to pursue young talented players from overseas following the furore caused by Chelsea's transfer ban imposed because of the manner in which they signed Gaël Kakuta from Lens. Wenger also dismissed the Uefa president Michel Platini's plan to stop the transfer of players until they reach the age of 18.
"Look at the alternative," Wenger said. "If you ban players from moving before the age of 18, you know what will happen? The player will be sold anyway. To whom? To agents. At what age? At 13, 14. Where will they go? Not to top-level clubs with top-level education. They will go to clubs who have been bought by business people, of a very low level, and will stay there until the age of 18 waiting to be sold. The money will go out of the game.
"If your players cannot move to the best clubs, I believe they will not improve. If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put it into a good music school, not in an average one. So why should that not happen in football? If a player goes to Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, it is all [above board] and he gets a good education."
Wenger does not argue that clubs from which boys are signed do not deserve appropriate compensation, but he stressed the reasons behind the necessity to find players from beyond England.
"[Transfers] will carry on even if they stop it for one or two years," he said. "Clubs will just make future agreements with the clubs to sign them at 18 when they are 16. Are they really going to wait? England is in a weak position for taking young players because they inflict a big handicap on themselves by the fact that they have no access to Asian players, no access to South American players, no access to African players [because of work permit regulations].
"On top of that, if it was impossible to take European players then you will have a big handicap in the future for English football. What is happening now is a case that I have fought for a long time against – people with regressive ideas.
"If you have a good national team today, it proves it conforms to what I have preached for a long time – don't hide the best players in England from being exposed to the best ones [from around the world], that will make them weaker."
The term "child slavery" does not sit easily with Arsenal's French manager either. "Fifa are welcome to Arsenal at any time, I'll show them what we do and how we treat the boys," he said. "That's not the case everywhere. In some places in Brazil some boys do not have the same conditions or treatment that we have. Medically, psychologically, and 'footballistically'. It is ridiculous [to call it child slavery]. Some people in France say we have signed 30 or 40 players, but we have no room for that many players! We sign one or two. When we buy a young boy we train him and give him a chance to play. We promote, we educate and we integrate. That's why we have success."
Wenger also voiced his displeasure that Andrei Arshavin had played for Russia against Wales on Wednesday when he was not deemed fit by his club. The midfielder has aggravated a groin injury and will now miss tomorrow's Premier League match at Manchester City, next week's Champions League tie with Standard Liège and the next weekend's league match against Wigan Athletic.
"We are upset because he should not have played," Wenger said. "He was not in a condition where he could play 90 minutes. We took him off against Man United [in the previous league match] because he was injured already at half-time. You can say a lot about it, but it does not do a lot."
Wenger also defended his Croatian striker Eduardo da Silva as he prepares to deal with the inevitable boos from opposition supporters following his two-match suspension in Europe for diving. "The situation has been created by the media impact of his case, but that is not the worst. The worst thing is that now he is not given penalties when they are penalties. The one against England was a penalty."
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