Alexander Hleb ability not be the aboriginal name that springs to apperception if you anticipate of the 2006 Arsenal aggregation which came so abutting to acceptable the aboriginal Champions Alliance bays in club’s history.
But it was Arsenal area the able Belarusian midfielder played the best football in his career – and eventually becoming himself a £12million move to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in the summer of 2008.
Yet what would be a dream move for a lot of players angry out to be an absolute adversity for Hleb, who spent just one year at Barcelona afore abrogation accommodation to Stuttgart and never abiding to Spain.
“It’s still difficult for me to explain why I larboard Arsenal,” Hleb says. “I was actually blessed there. Arsene actually trusted me, it was idyllic. And afresh I absitively to leave.
“I was on vacation and agents and managers assertive me that I had to go to Barcelona. To be honest, I didn’t actually acquire what I was doing. At some point, I realised, ‘Oh god! I’m abrogation Arsenal!’
“When Arsene said that it was a amount of hours, I acquainted devastated. It was actually harder for me to acquire that. Wenger did aggregate to accomplish me break at Arsenal.
“He even texted me as I was fishing. ‘Alex, I won’t let you go, we charge you here.’ I cried if I apprehend it.”
Hleb reckons he is one of abounding players who’ve regretted abrogation Arsenal and Wenger abaft over the years, but his accord with the Gunners bang-up survived the transfer.
“Yes, we even met in Minsk a few months ago if Arsenal played adjoin BATE in the Champions League,” Hleb says. “Wenger is like a ancestor to me. It was actually simple to plan with him, you consistently acquainted his support.
“During my aboriginal division in England, I best up in abrasion while arena for the civic team. So, as I was aggravating to balance from it, I told Arsene that maybe it would accomplish faculty to forward me on accommodation to Germany or something.
“He was like, ‘Stop it! I accept in you! Don’t even anticipate about things like that.’ Honestly? I just flew out of the room. It actually acquainted like I had wings.
“Arsene actually feels his players. He says actually what a amateur needs to hear. I anticipate there are actual few guys who ability say that they haven’t enjoyed alive with him. Anybody acquainted like they would get a chance. And I anticipate a lot of players who larboard ultimately regretted it.”
Hleb confused from Stuttgart to Arsenal in 2005, a year afterwards the Invincibles wrote their way into Premier Alliance folklore.
It would accept been harder for anyone to get into a starting XI featuring players like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, but a 24-year-old Belarusian who didn’t accept any Premier Alliance acquaintance and couldn’t acquire a babble of English? Imagine that.
“When I aboriginal came to London, the aboriginal aggregation was still on vacation because they accomplished the division a bit afterwards than I did in Germany,” Hleb says. “So, during my aboriginal canicule at Arsenal, I was mainly amidst by youngsters.
“Everything was abundant although I got actually agitated if I begin out that Patrick Vieira was leaving. I mean, I just came there and one of the greats was already on his way out.
“Then the aboriginal aggregation came in, but I couldn’t allege to anyone because I didn’t apperceive English! And all the capital guys batten either English or French. The abandoned two players I could actually babble with were Jens Lehmann who acutely batten German and Philippe Senderos who batten six languages.
“Then the club gave me a abecedary and it all formed out well, but I actually had to alternation actual harder because Premier Alliance football was acutely intensive, abundant added accelerated than it was in Bundesliga.
“We played one-touch football and you had to accomplish a accommodation afore you even got the ball. You charge time to acclimate to that. Fortunately, I had Arsene who actually believed in me so afterwards six months or so I acquainted actually acclimatized and accessible to go.”
Move to Barcelona
Hleb went on to play 129 amateur for Arsenal and become an basic allotment of the team’s awful technical, fast-paced four-man midfield afore abutting Barcelona in 2008, afterward the accomplish of Thierry Henry, who had abutting the Catalans a year previous.
Needless to say, Hleb was admiring to accept a above team-mate about while aggravating to authorize himself in a new team.
“In London, I mostly afraid out with adolescent guys like Fabregas, Flamini or Rosicky. Henry was in addition accumulation with Bergkamp and Pires. But if I came to Barca, Thierry and I became actually friends. I even lived at his abode for a few months!
“He begin out that I was active in a auberge and just said, ‘Hey, why do you charge a hotel? I reside abandoned now so appear to my place!
“Thierry is an amazing guy. If it comes to football, he’s a bit added serious, a boxy man. But in accustomed life, he’s actually fun.
“Sometimes we would watch Arsenal matches together. If he larboard the club in 2007, everybody was shocked.
“The aggregation was array of alive up so no one saw it coming. But he capital a new challenge, new trophies, a Champions Alliance title. I don’t apperceive how blessed he was at Barcelona, but he won everything. That’s a fact.
“We are not actually in blow now, but that’s my fault. I consistently lose my phone, consistently lose all the numbers so we accept affectionate of absent anniversary other, too. The abandoned guy from the Arsenal era I still allocution to is Cesc. Plus, I met up with Van Persie in Turkey. But that’s actually it. We’re all ancestors guys now, you know?”
Hleb is quick to accept he was the one to accusation for declining at Barcelona. The midfielder was one of the aboriginal players active by Pep Guardiola in his aboriginal summer as Barca manager, but that didn’t advice him much.
Unlike Henry, Hleb did not apprentice Spanish and appealing anon begin himself abandoned from the blow of a aggregation which was about to go on one of the a lot of ascendant periods in the history of football.
Eventually, as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets formed one the greatest midfield trios of all time, there was no abode larboard for a guy who couldn’t even allege to a lot of of his team-mates afterwards a game.
“It was all my fault,” he says. “I was afraid because of the things that were traveling on in my activity at that time and I didn’t actually accept to anyone.
“Guardiola was a adolescent drillmaster with no acquaintance of managing any aboriginal teams so he apparently couldn’t acquisition the appropriate words as bound as Wenger. He bare that abutment himself.
“I bethink Numancia assault us in the aperture bold of the season. All the players were about to accompany their civic teams so I asked Guardiola if I had to acknowledgment to Barcelona. His answer? ‘Alex, I ability not even be actuality if you appear back!’
“But he begin his support. Players were abaft him. Especially the Spanish guys – Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi and others.”
Falling out with Guardiola
It was an about connected attempt for Hleb in Spain, but there was one moment in accurate which stands out as the alpha of the end for him beneath Guardiola.
“In May, we were arena Manchester United in the Champions Alliance final and Guardiola larboard me out of the squad. It was actually devastating. I bethink talking with Henry, and he said, ‘I get it, I get it. But be stronger than this.’
“But I still acquainted like there was a knife in my back. I never batten to Guardiola afterwards that. I could acquire him because I didn’t behave able-bodied abundant myself. But it was abundantly painful.”
Two months afterwards assault United in Rome to complete the club’s beginning treble, Barcelona active Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter, with Samuel Eto’o affective in the adverse administration as allotment of the deal.
Hleb was declared to accomplish the move to Milan too, but he eventually alternate to Stuttgart on accommodation instead. First, though, he got to acquaintance the band of Zlatan.
“In a way, Zlatan reminds me of Henry,” he says. “He was actually funny, consistently messing with everyone. Well, except for Thierry and Messi.
“Leo was actual adolescent at that time, but even world-class players were whispering in his presence! ‘Did you see what the little guy did today?’
“I actually chuckled at that. But again, we didn’t allocution abundant because he abandoned batten Spanish and I knew just a brace of phrases.”
Earlier this year, Hleb who angry 36 in May, became a auger for the Russian sports approach ‘Match TV’. He still lives in Minsk with his ancestors and hopes to abide his football career, accepting larboard Krylya Sovetov Samara in the summer.
“It’s not about money, really,” he says. “I just wish to play in an absorbing league. But I won’t move anywhere after my family.
“I haven’t been to London for a while but of advance I still absence Arsenal. It was abundant to deathwatch up accustomed and do what you adore accomplishing the most. It was fantastic. Obviously, I’ve got added priorities now but I still accept a admiration to play.”