Birmingham City’s new signing Alexander Hleb has made no secret of his regret at leaving Arsenal. He looks back on his time at Arsenal with fondness, reflecting that it was a huge mistake to leave the security of the Emirates for the uncertainty of the Nou Camp as both his reputation and value have suffered hugely because of it. However, Hleb needs to take off his rose-tinted spectacles and stop reminiscing on the past if really wants to prove himself a second time in English football.
During his time at Arsenal, Hleb established himself as one of Arsenal’s key players, becoming a key component in Arsene Wenger’s potent attacking side. His close control and dribbling skills won him many admirers, including Barcelona who expressed an interest in signing the Belarusian winger. Hleb questioned whether Arsenal could fulfil his trophy ambitions and decided that a move to Barcelona would enable him to have a greater opportunity to win some honours. And so Hleb completed a dream move to the Catalan giants in the summer of 2008 for a fee of €17 million.
His dream quickly turned sour when Hleb found himself on the periphery of the Barcelona squad, featuring only intermittently in an unhappy first two years at the Nou Camp. He joined German club Stuttgart on loan for the whole of last season to get some much needed first-team experience but his return to the club where he first came to prominence was another disappointment for Hleb as he found himself frequently substituted by new manager Christian Gross.
Since his disasterous move to Spain, Hleb has been keen on a return to the Premier League and Birmingham has granted the midfielder his wish. The move may prove to be a hugely beneficial one for both parties: both Birmingham City and Alexander Hleb show similar characteristics as both harbour great ambition and are eager to prove themselves worthy of a place amongst the big boys of English football.
Alex McLeish’s side have made a good start to their second consecutive season in the top-flight, occupying 5th place in the league table. They produced an impressive performance on Sunday against Liverpool but were denied by a lack of cutting-edge in front of goal as Pepe Reina pulled of a string of fine saves to keep the score at 0-0. Birmingham’s build-up play was methodical, if unspectacular but Hleb could change all that. He could add real guile and invention to a Birmingham side that have looked somewhat one-dimensional in their matches so far.
Now Hleb finds himself with a second loan move in as many years as he attempts to get his career back on track at St Andrew’s. In order to succeed at Birmingham, Hleb needs to treat his move as a fresh start; he must put the experiences of the past behind him and focus on his present and future with Birmingham football club to prove he still has what it takes to perform at the highest level of European football.
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