• Arsenal face Barcelona in Champions League clash on Tuesday
  • Alexis Sanchez signed for Barcelona from Udinese in 2011 
  • Sanchez will face former club at the Emirates this week 

Rob Draper for The Mail on Sunday

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is hoping that his friendship with Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez will not be ruined this week by the former Barcelona player coming back to haunt his old club.

Bartomeu, who negotiated buying Alexis for Barca from Udinese in 2011, was reluctant to sell him to Arsenal in 2014 and is concerned that their former player could damage them in the last 16 of Champions League.

Bartomeu said: ‘I like Alexis very much. I was against selling Alexis to Arsenal because I always thought that Alexis had not finished his career at Barcelona. But it was his decision. He wanted to leave and we had a really good offer from Arsenal but Alexis for me has been always a special player from my part of view.

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez left Barcelona for Arsenal in 2014 

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez left Barcelona for Arsenal in 2014 

‘When we signed him from Udinese, I was responsible for negotiations. I was very close with Alexis and the first night he came to Barcelona I went to have dinner with him and he’s a fantastic player. I want an incredible professional career for him — except against us.’

Bartomeu has also challenged younger players at Barcelona not to follow the example of Hector Bellerin, who left Barcelona’s academy at the age of 16 because he thought he would have more opportunities at Arsenal.

Bellerin has been one of Arsenal’s success stories of the season. ‘I can understand some times some of our youth players who leave, because probably they look at the first team and they think I have to defeat Sergio Busquets, Pique, Xavi or Messi or Neymar. How can I do it? So they say I’m going to look for another [club].

Sanchez takes on Hull City's Curtis Davies during Arsenal's FA Cup clash at the Emirates Stadium 

Sanchez takes on Hull City’s Curtis Davies during Arsenal’s FA Cup clash at the Emirates Stadium 

‘But my message to all the young players in our club. I will say: “Don’t leave. Try to defeat them. Do it. You cannot leave and think, when you are old, what would have happened if I would defeat him in training in the first team.”

‘First try to achieve your dream. If your dream is to play for Barcelona, fight for your dream, defeat those super players because nobody knows what could happen. Sergio Busquets is reference — or Xavi, or Andres Iniesta.

‘Xavi was leaving to AC Milan and Iniesta didn’t play in Paris for the Champions League final. Sergi Roberto, he has been in our first team trying and Marc Bartra played yesterday and he played and a very good game. To those who are 16 years old, don’t give up.

Sanchez takes a tumble during Barca's Champions League clash with AC Milan back in 2012 

Sanchez takes a tumble during Barca’s Champions League clash with AC Milan back in 2012 

‘Of course it’s a good option to go to teams like Arsenal. I understand it’s their decision — but if your dream is to play for Barcelona, try to do it and then if you don’t succeed then you can go another team, because if someone is taught in Barcelona schools and in La Masia, you are prepared to play everywhere ‘

With Barca about to undergo a £500million refurbishment of the Nou Camp stadium, Bartomeu has also spoken of his admiration of Arsenal in managing to build the Emirates Stadium and stay in the Champions League, despite the huge financial commitment.

‘I know personally the real state of investment of Arsenal because we studied it and what they did and how they did it. Not only me, but members of the board because their investment in real estate together with the stadium was a success. We have been looking also at Arsenal and their youth football and we like very much philosophy of Arsene Wenger of his concept of football.’

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