By Duncan Castles
Chelsea have agreed a deal to sign 16-year-old Barcelona starlet Josimar Quintero at the end of the season, with the Liga leaders braced to lose several promising talents to the Premier League.
The Ecuadorian attacking midfielder has told the Spanish club that he will not be taking up their offer of a senior contract, which will enable him to join Roman Abramovich's outfit this summer for a nominal fee.
A fast and direct creator of chances from wide or central positions, Josimar joins defender Julio Pleguezuelo in the latest exodus of Barcelona's youngsters.
Pleguezuelo, a player in the mould of Carles Puyol, has already told staff at Barca that he is leaving for Arsenal in the summer, while 16-year-old forward Sergi Canos is actively encouraging offers from English sides.
Canos, one of three Barca players called up by Spain for an international tournament against France, Italy and the Czech Republic in April, has been pursued by Liverpool and Tottenham. Like Josimar and Pleguezuelo, the striker has made it clear to his English suitors that financial terms significantly superior to those on offer at Camp Nou will convince him to move abroad.
The players' first professional contract offers a window for Premier League sides to take advantage of Barcelona's much-admired academy programme. Fifa rules prevent individuals under the age of 16 from moving overseas except under special circumstances, but also bar academies from signing their best graduates to long-term professional contracts until they have reached that age.
Should a club from another European league wish to offer them an alternative deal at 16 they must only pay the developing side Fifa-mandated compensation in lieu of a transfer fee. The maximum sum due for for a player who has spent four years in a “Category 1” club such as Barcelona is €360,000.
Scouting then poaching youngsters from Barca's Under-16s has become a common strategy for the Premier League's more affluent clubs. Arsenal targeted Cesc Fabregas in 2003, rapidly turning him into a regular first-team player and eventually making him their captain before he forced a Camp Nou return for €41 million eight years later. Gerard Pique joined Manchester United in 2004, returning to Catalunya four seasons later for €6m.