Alexander Hleb is, of course, well-known amongst UK football followers because of his time at Arsenal, during which time Sky pundit Andy Gray described him as one of the Premier league’s ‘most skillful players’. Born in Minsk in Belarus in 1981, Hleb, whose brother is also an international footballer, initially made his name in the Bundesliga with FC Stuttgart, whom he joined from his first club, FC Bate Borisov, at the age of nineteen, with whom he had just won the Belarus national league. Arsenal were signing a player who had already made 172 first team appearances for Stuttgart, scoring 19 goals in total.
By the time Hleb joined Arsenal in 2005 he had already been voted Belarusian player of the year three times – he has added two more awards since then – and he became respected at Arsenal because of his versatility, energy and ability to fit into the team’s smooth passing style of play. In his first season in North London, Hleb started 40 league games and scored 3 goals – figures that he repeated the following season.
It was during season 2007/08 that rumours started to link Hleb with a move to Barcelona; stories that gathered momentum after a particularly impressive performance against AC Milan in the Champions’ League. The ‘will he, won’t he’ saga kept the press occupied until July when the player signed for Barca in a deal reported to be worth about £11.8 million. During his time at Arsenal, Hleb made a total of 130 appearances, scoring 11 goals.
Alexander Hleb hardly made the most promising start to his career with his new club – picking up a series of injuries during pre-season which disrupted his progress considerably. Towards the end of the year, however, he was beginning to become a regular in the squad and to show signs of being able to integrate with the nimble, quick passing midfielders already at the club.
Internationally, Hleb made his debut appearance as a substitute in a defeat against Wales in 2001. His full debut followed, along with his first international goal, against Hungary the following April and he has been a regular in the team since then – captaining the side since August, 2007.
It is easy to see why Barcelona signed Alexander Hleb; he fits into their mould of being skillful, adaptable and pacy – with the ability to chip in with the occasional goal and, overall, an acute positional sense and an awareness of the runs of forward players. He should make a valuable addition to the squad – and his wife certainly should make an impact on the local media; in August, 2008 Alexander married Anastasia, a Topless singer. To be precise, Anastasia Kosenkova was a member of the Belarusian girl band, Topless.