It was sad to see Alexander Hleb giving that interview after the Arsenal game and he was unsurprisingly criticized by Birmingham supporters who expect better performances from the tricky player. The midfielder has endured a slump that few players in the world have went through and he could end his career without ever realizing his potential.
He commented albeit in a jovial manner that he would readily swap the Birmingham shirt for an Arsenal one if he was given the option. The Belarus International was one of the key players for Arsenal when he was signed in 2005 and did make a number of appearances for the Gunners.
He was used in a number of positions and though he preferred to play in the center, Arsene Wenger used him predominantly on the flanks. Even though he did not score many goals, he was a decent player for the Gunners and was able to establish himself in the first team following his transfer from Stuttgart where he enjoyed a good time early in his career.
But he was ambitious, some would say greedy, and forced a move through to FC Barcelona in 2008 despite Wenger and Arsenal not really interested in selling the player. However Hleb went on to make comments about Wenger and Arsenal which did not go well with the supporters, some of whom still do not have time for him.
Arsene Wenger made sure he got a good deal as he obtained €17 million from the transfer and spent a good part of it around €12 million to acquire the services of young Samir Nasri from Olympic Marseille. Nasri was a very highly rated player then but it was still doubtful whether he would be able to prove his worth for Arsenal at that time.
Hleb then joined Barcelona under Pep Guardiola and could not break into the team despite his big money transfer and featured predominantly on the bench. For a player who was rated that highly by Wenger, it was clearly a bad move for Hleb who grew increasingly dissatisfied at his position at the club and looked to join other clubs.
Barcelona were prepared to offload him but his huge transfer fee proved to be a stumbling block and there were not too many clubs interested. He went on loan to his former club Stuttgart in an attempt to revive his sagging career but it was again a failure.
He had a rift with the manager and was again benched for large periods of the season. In this time, he went on to criticize the quality of play at the club and made it clear that he wanted to sort out his future with Barcelona. But he was shunned from pre-season training camp and was subsequently loaned out to Birmingham City this season.
Fast forwarding to the present, Nasri has emerged as a world class player who is just starting to realise his true potential which is why Arsenal are keen to tie down the player to a new contract which could be accepted by the player. He has scored 13 goals this season which is more than what Hleb managed in his entire Arsenal career.
On the whole, it is clear that Arsenal have obtained a better player to replace Hleb and Nasri's performances have only highlighted the fact that Hleb has not been missed by Arsenal. The club has coped well in the absence of the talented winger while the player has suffered badly since leaving the club for seemingly brighter pastures.
Hleb featured as a substitute in the recently concluded game against Arsenal and from the bench, he watched Nasri produce a world class performance which would have made him think what might have been. The Belarus International had a discussion with Wenger as the teams went into the tunnel at half time and it might be interesting what he might discuss with his former mentor.
He admitted that he loved playing under Wenger and was ready to give his complete effort every time he played for the Gunners in the past. His comments came after enduring frustration with Barcelona but it is clear that he still regrets his mistake of leaving the Gunners.
Every one make mistakes but it is possible to find some ways to make it right but in Hleb's case, he has endured a horrible time and though he has no future with Arsenal, as an Arsenal supporter myself, I hope he has a good time in his future.
Nasri has recently been linked with a move to Barcelona and though there is very less possibility of the move happening, he must be aware of what happened in Hleb's case. He is a more talented player than Hleb but should hopefully continue his tenure at the club. Nasri is currently enjoying his time with Arsenal and hopefully, will continue for many more years to bring glory to the club.