‘I would have signed Angel di Maria but for permit flaws’ – Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager says permit rules prevented him signing Argentinian years ago

Arsene Wenger has called for English football's "politically correct" work permit system to be abolished in order to help Premier League clubs produce the best players in the world.

The Arsenal manager said current regulations play into the hands of foreign clubs, and revealed that, if not for work permit requirements, he would have signed Angel di Maria long before the Argentinian winger joined Manchester United from Real Madrid for nearly £60 million last summer.

The English FA last week announced its intention to alter the rules to secure more opportunities for English players, but Wenger said the logic behind the alterations seemed flawed and the proposed measures counter-productive.

Wenger spoke about the issue of work permits because his club will have to apply for one this month if they reach an agreement with Villarreal for the purchase of Brazilian centre-back Gabriel Paulista.


Wenger said there was a “50/50 chance” of a transaction being agreed with the Spanish side before the close of the transfer window – the clubs are thought to be close to a £15 million deal – after which Arsenal would have to go before a Home Office committee to appeal for the player to be given a work permit on an “exceptional talent” basis despite him not meeting the basic criteria of having played 75 per cent of his national team’s matches in the past two years.

Application process

Under the FA’s proposed changes, which could come into effect in the summer, Gabriel and any other player would qualify for a work permit automatically if a club pays more than £10 million for him, but Wenger suggested that Arsenal could not afford to wait until the summer so will go through the application process if required.

The club is confident it would win a favourable outcome on similar grounds to those that allowed Willian to join Chelsea last year, ie that the player’s talent is extraordinary. However, he would still like to see the system overhauled and not merely modified.

Asked what solution he would endorse, Wenger said: “Ideally it would be to open it completely: anyone can come in. Because at the moment we are in a position where they force you to spend money on a player who sometimes you have identified.”

He cited Di Maria as an example, explaining that he had spotted the player in an underage youth tournament nearly a decade ago and wanted to sign him but was unable to do so, leaving Di Maria to join Benfica instead.

Two stools

Wenger said the FA’s planned changes fell between two stools, neither helping the top domestic league nor advancing the cause of English youngsters.

“There are two ways to approach the solution for academies. The first is you close completely the country and you play only with English players. That will kill the attractiveness of the Premier League worldwide.

“The second is to say: ‘Look, we have the best league in the world, let’s produce the best players in the world.’

“Since the age of 25 I’ve worked on how can you improve players, and one thing is for sure: if you put a young player with top-level players he has more chances of developing into a top-level player. If you put him with average players he has more chances of developing into an average player.” Guardian Service