Former Arsenal academy director Liam Brady has told the Irish Examiner he believes he could have signed Raheem Sterling as a youth player.
Sterling, now 19, emerged through the youth ranks at Queens Park Rangers before joining Liverpool for 600,000 pounds in 2010.
The Daily Mail has reported that the Gunners tried to sign Sterling as a 10-year-old, and they were also regularly linked with a move for his sevices during the 2009-10 season.
Brady, who said it was "very difficult" to tell youngsters they would not have a future at Arsenal, expressed regret that he had allowed a number of successful players to slip away.
"I had to make decisions at under 12, 14, 16 and 18 whether a player was going to be offered further registration or contracts, and that's something I won't miss," Brady, who left Arsenal in the summer, said. "I've let kids go at 14 who are making a very good living in the game.
"In recent times, I think I could have got Raheem Sterling if I'd really gone for him, but I didn't go through with that one.
"Players we don't keep often go on and have a good career in the game. It isn't an end -- OK, he's leaving Arsenal, but clubs are always ringing us, saying: 'Well, tell us about this fella, and give me a list of the lads who are leaving.' That isn't said to soften the blow for the lad, that's the truth. Within weeks, these lads have moved to another academy.
"I saw a kid recently, Lewis Grabban. Norwich have paid around three million pounds to Bournemouth for him -- I let that kid go when he was 14. Dwight Gayle, who is playing for Crystal Palace, we let him go too; he cost Palace a couple of million.
"Invariably when you leave Arsenal, at the very, very minimum, other clubs will want to take a look at you on trial. You don't just leave Arsenal and go back to amateur football."
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Brady spent 18 years in charge of youth development at Arsenal and saw several young players -- including Jermaine Pennant and Luke Freeman -- struggle to live up to expectation.
"Jermaine did very well to get as far as he has from the background he came from," Brady said. "He did bloody well. But [Jack] Wilshere, you heard from the people who knew that we had something special.
"Luke Freeman? Gillingham needed a bit of money, Arsenal came in and said we'll have a bit of a gamble on this lad and the press went: 'Arsenal sign young superstar from Gillingham.'
"Other lads are too headstrong. They can't be told. Social media, unacceptable behaviour -- these are all problems of modern society. Arsene [Wenger] won't put up with that and I tell the young lads if their behaviour is, in any way, erratic or unreliable, either they change their ways or change their club. Unfortunately, there's a lot don't have the intelligence to hear what people are telling them."
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Perhaps the most successful player to emerge from the Arsenal youth ranks in the Wenger era has been Cesc Fabregas.
The midfielder was one of several players Arsenal signed from the Barcelona academy, and the Spanish giants had repeatedly complained that the Gunners were poaching their youngsters, but Brady said: "Barcelona have been very good with a sleight of hand themselves, whether it's in Spain or outside the country. They've manoeuvred as much, if not more, than any other club.
"What we have there is a situation where we have a scout on the ground who knows Barcelona inside out. I didn't get much involved in any of those deals -- he would go straight to the club and say: 'This kid, we can get him out of Barcelona at 16.' We've done that four or five times but we've really only hit the jackpot so far with Fabregas. It's bloody hard.
"Arsenal are operating at the very highest levels, trying to complete to win the Premier League, trying to go to the last rounds of the Champions League and you have to have some of the best players to do that. To make that breakthrough, he has got to be exceptional."