A typical Wenger player, silky, great passes and loved an assist Alexander Hleb was brought to Arsenal in June 2005. Hleb was an established player having been at FC Stuttgart for the previous 5 years. He had played and won a game in the Champions League for them against Manchester Utd in the 02-03 season.
In his last year at Stuttgart (04-05) the team never really reached its full potential from the previous seasons and only finished fifth and this may have been down to the club losing their manager who was Felix Magath who went to Bayern Munich. Bearing in mind this is the guy that recently took Fulham down and looked like he had no idea its quite surprising. Nevertheless, this season still proved to be a good one for Hleb as he had finished the season as Top Assists for the Bundesliga.
This meant that Wenger was happy to part with around 15 Million Euro for his services. In his first season at the club Hleb was injured whilst playing for Belarus and was out for 7 months. He returned in December and by January 2006 he’d become a regular in Wenger’s plans. He went on to be successful that season for Arsenal and helped them to reach the Champions League final against Barcelona. Hleb started and became the first ever Belarusian to make an appearance in the final of the Champions League.
He finished his season with 40 appearances and 4 goals.
In his second season, Hleb made 48 appearances and scored 3 goals even though his season again was dealt a hamstring injury. What was apparent though was that Hleb even though not the star of this current side had an important role in the team. He was very much relied on by the manager and the team and he rarely gave the ball away. As you will see that even though Hleb was an attacking midfielder his stats for scoring never quite added up. He always used to look like he was afraid of a shot and played the extra pass even when it was harder and I think he was the epitome of the ‘walking it in’ tag that Arsenal were accustomed to at that time even more than now.
Hleb, was for me a player that the fans would always be happy to see on a team sheet. He was industrious, silky and always would find an Arsenal player with his passes. He may have been slightly lightweight yet he rarely was knocked off the ball. He also good defend himself and on one occasion he retaliated to a brute at Reading called Graham Murty where off the ball Hleb gave him a slap and ultimately ended his season.
To me he was a gifted player who in the end never really reached his potential, he had fantastic ball control and was a master at 1 touch quick flowing football. If he could shoot he would have been as good as any midfielder at that time in the Premier League.
In the end, as with many of Wenger’s players that he brings from nowhere, Hleb saw greener grass elsewhere. In the summer of 2008 Arsenal recouped all of the money spent on Hleb and he was sold for 15 Million Euro, with add ons of 2M if Barcelona should win the title (which they did so it raised to 17M).
Hleb signed a 4 year contract with a buyout clause of wait for it…. 90M Euros
In those 4 years Alex only made 19 appearances and could never really tie down a first team place. He was loaned out three times also in that time, with Stuttgart, Birmingham and Wolfsburg to re-link again with Felix Magath. He also turned down the chance to play with Mourinho and Inter Milan in that time too as you would naturally. For Birmingham he could have played in the side that beat us in the Final of the league cup but was injured- he still managed it back for the final few games though to help them to relegation.
In January of 2012, Hleb’s contract with Barca was ended by mutual consent and he signed for Russian premier league side Krylia Sovetov Samara (don’t worry I’d never heard of them either) until the end of the season. He played 8 times scoring no goals.
When the season came to an end Hleb joined Bate Borisov, a club where he started his professional career and played 29 times scoring 3 goals.
He now plays in Turkey for Konyaspor and up to writing this had played 21 times scoring twice.
Alex Hleb, to me could have been a top top player for Arsenal. He had many of the attributes that Wenger would have enjoyed. He worked hard for the team and I believe that with the right guidance could have added shooting and scoring goals to his array of talents. In the end he pretty much fizzled out and was a wasted talent. He made a name for himself at Arsenal and then had his head turned by the likes of Barcelona. It seems to have happened to many of our players whom have moved on. Just off the top of my head we have bench warmer Sagna at City, and Alex Song who also left for Barcelona and is now playing for West Ham with Sam Allardyce.
One thing I admire for Hleb is that unlike others before him he admitted that leaving Arsenal was the worst decision of his career. Okay, it wouldn’t be hard for anyone to realise that but I think it takes a lot for a player and remember a multi-millionaire to stand up and say he was wrong. Alex Song however is recently saying that West Ham will soon be one of the best clubs in the Premier League….. Ok mate whatever…..
I wish Alex all the best in his remaining years as a player. I think at least he knew that Arsenal were where he had his best days and thats ok with me.