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In Praise Of Arsenal’s Enigmatic Alexander Hleb

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This time, Skis gives us his views on Alex Hleb.

Alex Hleb, the Belarussian midfielder with the Twiglet-like legs, is rightly being acclaimed in all quarters for his quite magnificent displays this season. But it hasn’t always been like that. Another typically unheard of Wenger signing, though for a very atypical transfer fee of around £10 million, I was quickly drawn to this scruffy, seemingly undernourished chap. I’m not sure why, I just take a shine to certain players without having really seen them play, like I did with Limpar, Freddie etc. But then I did see him play, and my early affections were soon tinged with doubt. His debut was quiet but functional, but the 1-0 defeat away to Chelsea gave me some cause for concern. Despite being given a tremendous song by the travelling faithful (“..he came from Belarus, to sell cheap fags and booze”), his uncanny knack for gifting possession to the opposition was a worry, and so it went on for the remainder of his first season.

By the middle of last season, any patience I may have had with him had vanished, and I was by no means the only one amongst us at Ashburton. I will admit (as I hang my head in shame), that it reached the stage last season where I took to hurling abuse at him from the stands, referring to him only as “The Pleb”. It was just the sheer frustration of KNOWING that he had more skill than most Premiership players could even dream of, yet he couldn’t find a red shirt or beat a man to save his life. And then he reached his nadir when he conceded the utterly needless free-kick that eventually led to PSV knocking us out of Europe – why Alex, why?

And so to this season, and a conversation with an eternally optimistic mate (take a bow, Mr Little) about the problematic Pleb before the Fulham match. He claimed that the only reason young Alex was making so many mistakes, and gifting possession away more readily than a dodgy Labour Party donation, was because the REST OF THE TEAM were not yet as good as him, and therefore were making his quality balls look crap! Remarkable, I thought. Actually, that’s a lie. Utter bollocks, I thought, but, looking at him now, can such a theory be argued with? He isn’t doing a whole lot differently, he still appears to have velcro boots that make the ball stick, he still goes for the ‘eye of a needle’ pass whenever possible, and he still, infuriatingly, refuses to shoot until he’s sat the ‘keeper and half the defence on their arses – yet it’s all working!

So Alexander Hleb, I salute you – the man who was two years ahead of the most exciting young side this country has ever seen. Keep him fit for most of the season, and we’ll certainly be a threat to the Mancs and Chavsea right the way through to May.