When Alexander Hleb left Arsenal in 2008 to join Barcelona his slightly acrimonious departure held no hint of a return to the Premier League two years on so you can imagine the Emirates faithful’s surprise as he arrived at St Andrews to complete a loan move to Birmingham City.
Once a fans favourite with the Gunners, he departed claiming that he “hated life in London” and it is conceivable that he may be returning with his tail between his legs.
For it was clear Arsene Wenger did not want to sell the player and the move he forced, was one which he later would come to regret. He spent most of his time at the Nou Camp warming the bench as they went onto win the Champions League and La Liga titles.
Hleb said: I regret leaving Arsenal. I was playing every week for one of the most exciting sides in Europe. “I was being guided by one of the best coaches in the world and I owe Arsene Wenger a great deal. A footballer only truly exists when he takes to the field and makes a proper contribution to the team.”
His chance at Birmingham may be a shot at redemption, a chance to rebuild the tarnished reputation that emerged from his Emirates exit. The Birmingham fans will certainly be enthused by the prospect of his much needed wing wizardry and the sort of quality that was endorsed by Sir Alex Ferguson to aid the deal.
Perhaps the abiding memory at the Emirates was his non-entity in the final third for them; he was symbolic of the way Arsenal played football in that era, his movement off the ball and sublime first touch were enough to cause problems for any Premier League defence but his brilliant technique was sometimes eclipsed by over-elaboration.
His attempt at rebuilding the bridges he burnt with Arsenal fans by stating his regret and how he has followed Arsenal everywhere he has been means that his reception may be more forgiving than bitter – remembering for his ability as opposed to off-field issues.