By Chris Harris

Arsène Wenger fears that superstars like Lionel Messi could slip through the football net if FIFA push ahead with proposals to restrict player transfers below the age of 18.

The practice of signing youngsters from foreign countries has been a hot topic this week after Chelsea were banned from the transfer market until January 2011. Arsenal's London rivals were found guilty of inducing the French youngster Gael Kakuta to break his contract with Lens in 2007.

Wenger's global scouting network has been a rich source of talent for Arsenal's youth ranks and - ultimately - their first-team, with Cesc Fabregas perhaps their most high-profile young foreign import. The midfielder moved from Barcelona to North London in September 2003 at the age of 16 and is now a fully-fledged Premier League star and Spanish international.

At his pre-match press conference, Wenger pointed out that Arsenal's pursuit of Fabregas was no different to Barcelona's own pursuit of Messi, who joined the Catalan giants from Newell's Old Boys, a small club based in Rosario, Argentina. However the Frenchman believes that greater restrictions on overseas signings could stunt the development of future talent.

"Messi is a good counter-example of what FIFA is fighting against," said Wenger.

"They took Messi from Argentina at the age of 12, paid for his medical treatment and brought his entire family over. You can ask whether that is right or wrong, but Messi today is the best player in the world.

"In Barcelona he got a good education and was looked after medically. Should you forbid that? Maybe Messi would still have got a good education in Argentina, but not all the boys will.

"As for Fabregas, he has not wasted his time here but he could have also played in the Under-17s at Barcelona. We took advantage of a period of Barcelona that was messy."

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11 Sep 2009