I've always maintained that I try not to become too enraptured with Arsenal players as people. My cynicism insulates me against hero worship. When I was about sixteen, a lad broke into the first team from the ranks at Highbury. He played at left back just like I did, I instantly warmed to Ashley Cole, having his name emblazoned on the back of my shirt and furiously defending him against assertions that he couldn't defend. One of the smuggest moments of my life came in September 2004. I arrived back at University following Euro 2004 and my housemate who I had debated the subject with relentlessly simply admitted, 'you were right, that boy can defend.' Months later, well, we all know what happened. From January 2005, I refused to sing his name or cheer when it was called out over the PA. Hence my complete lack of exasperation when his tell all autobiography came out, I could not have cared less, I was already done with the himand anything that hastened his exit was fine with me. I still remember stories from 2001 when Cole emerged about his £4,000 a week wages and the level headed youngster's happiness with his Renault Clio.
Money turns people into arseholes very, very quickly. I promised myself that I wouldn't let it happen again. Of course I sing the player's names and give them my support. But I see them as organs of the football club I support, they are there for me, not vice versa. Now I have absolutely no axe to grind with players who want to leave, I realise that the players are not supporters as I am and if they see an opportunity to leave for different shores, that is entirely up to them, regardless of whether I concur with their motives. For instance, Mathieu Flamini went to a big club for a big salary. How many of us would eschew that opportunity out of loyalty to our present employers? However, there are ways of conduting oneself.
Last night I was privileged enough to be invited to the AISA End of Season Gala Dinner at Ashburton Grove (I'll use the 'E' word when said company start paying me royalties). Guests at the dinner were Eddie Kelly, Oleg Luzhny, Ray Parlour, Perry Groves and Kenny Samson. Listening to each of them speak (except the Horse, who had to gallop off intothe sunset for a flight to Italy) about our football club made me realise a few things. Firstly, how antiquated a concept loyalty has become in the modern game. Eddie Kelly said that being made Arsenal captain for a short period meant more to him than scoring in the 1971 Cup Final, the Double or Anderlecht. It's an obvious statement to make and even I roll my eyes when people roll out that old chestnut. But listening to these players speak about Arsenal Football Club with a fervour and passion many years after their playing careers have ended, to the point that they will come and speak to us plebs, so desperate are they to maintain their affiliation with the club. It got me thinking, and inevitably talking about Alex Hleb.
Hleb has polarised the opinions of Arsenal fans for three years. As you are probably aware, I have been a serial defender of his. A fantastic player, the kind who has always given me value for money as a spectator. It has now emerged that he wants to leave. Fair enough, each to their own. The supporters have treated him shabbily at times, he is kicked relentlessly by the league's brute defenders and at 27, is probably at last chance saloon with respects to enjoying another league at the top level. But like I say, there are ways of conducting oneself. Hleb, by hiding behind his agent like an infant clutching his father's leg, has behaved appallingly, albeit through the medium of his agent.
His decision to meet with Inter for an ice cream the night before a huge match at the San Siro smacked of disrespect. In fact, the circumstances around his three match ban, also, 'smacks' of disprespect if you'll excuse the pun. His agent's threat to invoke the Webster Clause, his assertion that Hleb found life in London 'too noisy' both beggars belief. Where did Hleb think London was? I'll bet my bollocks to a barn dance Hleb doesn't move to a team stationed in a remote fishing village. His agent (Skilepski is it? Fuck knows, frankly I don't find the parasite important enough to look his name up) has recently piped up again, gushing with verbal ejaculation at Real Madrid's apparent interest. Having been to both Madrid and Milan (coincidentally to watch Alex Hleb and his teammates to play football) I can assure you the solace and tranquility you seek cannot be found there mate.
Now comes Hleb's agent's veiled threat, 'Alex doesn't know if he can carry on playing to the same level at Arsenal.' Hleb meanwhile, maintains a cowardly hush. Well that's really nice isn't it? Let me leave or I'll deliberatly play badly. I do not understand why Hleb cannot be man enough to tell the manager he wants to leave, why all the cowardly threats? Hleb has willingly cast himself as a worthless chimp, while his agent merrily grinds the organ. As somebody who has defended Hleb against the naysayers for some time, I feel a bit stupid now. I still rate Hleb's abilities as a footballer, but as a person? He strikes me as a spineless creep. I feel incredibly let down by his actions, or lack thereof, he has disrespected his manager and willingly smeared his own reputation. It will be a shame to lose the player, but quite frankly, Alex, I don't really give a shit what you do now.LD.