The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: H - Alexander Hleb

Once dubbed the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" for his dazzling array of tricks and flicks, Alexander Hleb spent five successful seasons at VfB Stuttgart before becoming a first team regular at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger.

However, aged 27 and seemingly at the peak of his ability, the versatile attacking midfielder experienced a downward slide in his career as a dream move to Barcelona turned out to be a four-year nightmare for the Belarus international.

The early years - Stuttgart

After three seasons impressing as a teenager in his homeland, Hleb caught the attention of Bundesliga side Stuttgart and was snapped up, alongside his brother Vyacheslav, at the turn of the century.

Despite a tough first season as a fringe play in the Stuttgart squad, the Belarusian worked hard to establish himself as a key player in the 2001-02 campaign. It was becoming clear that, although Hleb was not a prolific goalscorer, his eye for an assist was one of the best in Europe.

At just 22-years old, his career could have easily taken a turn for the worst. Now an important member of the Belarus national team, Hleb was involved in a fatal car crash that saw a passenger in another car lose their life in Minsk.

Yet Hleb was cleared of any fault associated with the incident and quickly began to focus his attentions back on football. After 175 appearances and 19 goals in five seasons, the playmaker was snapped up by Arsenal. He ended his last season in the Bundesliga top of the assist charts.

The peak years - Arsenal

Despite picking up a knee injury in his first season for the Gunners, Hleb went on to make 40 appearances in his debut season. Arsenal reached the Champions League final that year, with Hleb becoming the first player from Belarus to reach such a stage.

The following season, Hleb was utilised as a number ten playing behind the prolific Robin van Persie. He went on to make 48 appearances that season but only netted three times.

Comfortable in a number of different positions, Hleb was moved out to the right-wing in another season as a first team regular. He made 129 appearances in total, scoring ten goals when Pep Guardiola and Barcelona came knocking in 2008.

The challenging years - Barcelona

Hleb later explained "I had to move to Barcelona. They were the number one team in the world at that time and you just cannot refuse such offers." Yet it was not a fruitful experience.

After just five starts in La Liga, Hleb was heavily linked to a move back to Germany with Bayern Munich, although the move fell through after two days of negotiations. However, a loan transfer back to Stuttgart did materialise. Despite becoming a regular selection once again, Hleb returned to Barcelona at the end of the one-year deal.

A surprise loan to Birmingham City was next on the agenda. With Blues' fans excited and expectant, injuries plagued his time in the West Midlands, making just 20 appearances. Hleb was to miss Birmingham's surprise League Cup final win over Arsenal.

The following season he was sent out on loan again, this time to VfL Wolfsburg but further injuries limited his contribution to just four appearances. Hleb's contract with Barcelona was eventually terminated by mutual consent in January 2012.

The latter years - BATE Borisov

Hleb puts his "failure" at Barcelona down to his own personal attitude. He explained "I had everything to develop and play regularly. Everything that happened is purely my fault. I took things too easily, my character prevented me from progressing. Instead of working hard I was too often grudging at the coach's decisions."

After the "worst decision of his career", the six-time Belarusian Player of the Year returned to his homeland with BATE Borisov after a brief spell with Russia's Krylia Sovetov Samara.

Hleb went on to win four league titles with BATE, combining his time with Turkish sides Torku Konyaspor and Gençlerbirliği during Belarus' winter break.

Now somewhat of a forgotten hero, we can only wonder how far Hleb could have gone in the game if he stayed at Arsenal where he "felt at home and really comfortable."


This article is the second in our 'Forgotten Footballers' series. Check out G, as we look at the man who scored the billion pound goal.