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Cesc Fabregas and nearly Lionel Messi: Francis Cagigao's 24 years at Arsenal

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He is the scout who helped bring players such as Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Gabriel Martinelli to Arsenal - and also tried to land Lionel Messi.

Confirmation of Cagigao's departure from Arsenal prompted a touching tribute from former Gunners captain Fabregas, one of the several talented youngsters he brought to the club.

As he weighs up his options before deciding his next move, London-born Cagigao, 51, about his time at Arsenal, the art of identifying talent, and just how close the club came to signing Argentina and Barcelona icon Messi.

It would have been the signing of the century for Arsenal - but just how close did Arsenal really come to landing Messi?

"He was playing in the best under-16s side I've seen until this day.

People would say he's so small, he's not the quickest, he's not strong, but he has an exceptional football brain, exceptional technique and he's a winner. "

On signing a young Fabregas - who became the club's youngest player aged 16 years and 177 days in October 2003 - from Barcelona, Cagigao said: "I can't remember any other case at the time of such a young player joining us from such a big club.
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