Arsenal have played down reports in France that they exploited a loophole in transfer dealings to secure the signing of two promising youngsters from Lens two years ago.
Using Football Leaks documents, France 3 Nord Pas-de-Calais and the Mediacites website found the Premier League club had agreed with their cash-strapped Ligue 2 counterpart to buy promising youngster Jeff Reine-Adelaide, then 17, in May 2015 ahead of the official opening of the summer transfer window on June 9.
Lens, however, reportedly required an immediate influx of money to satisfy the criteria of the DNCG, French football's financial watchdog, or face relegation on administrative grounds to the third tier of French football, the amateur Championnat National division.
Reports claimed the two parties agreed that Lens would give Arsenal an "option" on the midfielder, who never made a senior appearance for the French club, in exchange for a payment of €1.75 million "within 10 working days of this agreement."
The deal was signed by Arsenal's general counsel Svenja Geissmar and Lens president Gervais Martel on May 19, 2015. It stated a further payment of €2,193,750 would be made in three instalments, taking the total fee to nearly €4m for the youngster.
Arsenal director of communications Mark Gonnella, however, dismissed the idea that the club had done anything wrong.
"We don't discuss the confidential terms of player transfers," he told France 3 Nord Pas-de-Calais. "However, I can assure you all our transfers are carried out in respect to the laws and rules."
Speaking to France 3 Nord Pas-de-Calais, Lens chief Martel insisted he has "always done everything within the law."
He added: "Arsenal really wanted this player, and I wasn't going to keep him for them without signing an agreement."
The Lens president confirmed a similar option had been signed with the North London club for another of his side's youngsters, Yassin Fortune, also in the summer of 2015, bringing in an estimated €4m.
"I wouldn't say Arsenal saved Lens," said Martel, who had been left without funds by absentee majority shareholder Hafiz Mammadov. "We didn't need to make commitments to the DNCG, but given our financial difficulties, we needed to take the decision to transfer those players. And it was a good deal for us. I would have really liked to have kept them, but we had to let them go."
Redouane Mahrach, a lawyer who specialises in sports law, says FIFA may need to look into changing its rules if the reports prove to be correct.
"To my knowledge, this situation appears unique and new," he said. "FIFA rules don't forbid it. So, the operation seems legal. But it's urgent for the federation to envisage modifying the rules to limit the possibilities offered to rich clubs to further infringe on the players' freedom of movement and to combat the risk of abuse of such practices."