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Have You Ever Fallen In Love With.....

In the more fickle and mobile surrounds of the modern game, I find I am forever trying to detach myself from footballers and I often find I encourage others to do the same. For a start, player mobility and contract law has moved to a stage whereby moving clubs regularly is very normal, even within the, ahem, "financially secure" cocoon of the top flight. Basically, they`ll only break your heart. And that`s not always their fault. Loving something or someone that could never possibly return that affection is to play with emotional fire.

In the past, I have saved my idolatry for musicians. Don`t get me wrong, I realise they`re only human as well and subject to the same flaws as all of us. In fact, they`re usually more fatally flawed. I guess therein lies some of the attraction. But the ties aren`t as tight. If The Cure write a rubbish album, I don`t have to buy it. There again, I do find myself often coming back to a quote I am fond of from a 1976 interview with Jonny Rotten. When asked who his heroes were, he pithily replied, "I don`t have any heroes. We`re all f*****g useless."

Nevertheless, sometimes it`s difficult to stop the pull towards a player. I`m not talking about personalities per se. Role modelling men that happen to be good at kicking a ball isn`t fair on the players and it suggests a basic failure of parenting too. But sometimes, the way a player plays the game draws you towards them in a magnetic way that you realise isn`t entirely rational. I was drawn towards this piece this morning on F365. It got me wondering about players that have often caused you to suspend all logic in your appreciation of them and how they might have just ended up hurting you as a result.

The player that instantly came to my mind was Aliaksandr Hleb. In his three years at Arsenal, Hleb polarised opinion amongst Arsenal fans to say the least. I`m not at a loss as to why. Despite some of the best dribbling skills these shores have seen, he had an allergic reaction to shooting which infuriated many. I know I spent hours justifying his worth to the team. His partnership with Fabregas. How his ability to hold the ball in tight spaces enabled the fluid movement of forward runners. Hleb was one quarter of one the best Arsenal midfields Wenger has put together.

In 2007-08, the quartet of Hleb, Rosicky, Fabregas and Flamini threatened to sweep to the title. But it was a bond that was broken too soon. Rosicky`s hamstrings exploded into tiny little pieces. Flamini chased the lucre in Milan. Then there was Hleb. I can`t rationalise it, but I loved Alex Hleb. I think it was a connection to my childhood in a way. I`ve relayed many, many times that it was the dribbling skills of the likes of Limpar, Rocastle and Merson that drew me to choose the red side of the North London divide in my family.

Whisper it quietly, but were I four or five years older, then my formative years would have seen a Spurs side offering the likes of Waddle and Gascoigne, or Ardilles and Villa, it`s quite likely I`d have chosen Tottenham. Of course, assuming my inexact logic been translated in this hypothesis. But this is why I had a special affection for Hleb. He was exactly the sort of player that made me fall in love with the game in the first place.

The velvety ball control, all swivelling hips and deceptive dummies. He was the kind of player I had tried to be like in the playground. I even share his lack of killer instinct, which might explain why I have gradually moved into ever more defensive positions as I`ve gotten older. It probably explains why I was more sympathetic than I should have been when he passed up another glorious chance at goal in favour of an impossible pass. I suppose my admiration for Hleb was a kind of love, in the sense that I understand the word. In that, I often defied logic and evidence to keep him perched on that pedestal.

I think it`s much the same now when I see some of the punditry of Ian Wright and Paul Merson. Now, for a start, I don`t share this contention many seem to hold that, because they used to play for us, that they somehow should be inoculated from criticising. Their jobs are as pundits, which means they are paid to give their opinions, not further pro Arsenal propaganda. However, that is not to say that sometimes their opinions can be, shall we say, a tad ill informed. But I cannot get angry at them.

It wasn`t the personalities or the opinions I was ever interested in. Merson will always be the player that taught me how to volley a football, when he sliced a deceptive strike beyond Chris Woods, using his little toe to cut across the ball and give it its bend. Wright will always be the player that chipped Swindon keeper Fraser Digby from 40 yards and that never missed one on ones.

But Hleb disappointed me in a lot of ways. The transparent slap on Reading`s Graeme Murty that meant he missed his last three games- rather conveniently. Then there was the piss weak excuse he gave for leaving. London was too noisy. So of course he allayed this concern by moving to the tranquil backwater of Barcelona. Effectively, his departure was a slap in my eight year old face. That his career was nose dived beyond recognition ever since leaves me feeling confused. On one hand, the petty side of me feels smug and full of schaudenfreude. On the other, the contrition he has shown since in admitting his mistake makes me feel melancholic that such a talent has been wasted and with that, so was my illogical and immature affection. LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday January 27 2012

Time: 2:05PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Ah Hleb, the master of the 'pre-assist'.
No 10
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27/01/2012 14:39:00

I also had a soft spot for Hleb. That socks round the ankles Brady-like low centre of gravity made him a fascinating player to watch dribble past opponents. He was like that impossibly gifted kid in the school team no-one could get the ball off. But it all used to go wrong in front of goal.
Wyn Mills
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27/01/2012 15:26:00

Loved Hleb.. His story is a real pity.. But for me the only player I really fell in love with was Cesc Fabregas. Watched him right from his Carling Cup days to leading the Arsenal team. Though it hurts like hell that he's no longer with us cannot really hate him.
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27/01/2012 16:18:00

Hleb had the quickest feet I've ever seen. Quality player who lost out on the best part of his career by making a wrong move. I can't really blame him for making it.
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27/01/2012 16:28:00

Good ball control, quick feet, deft touches, disguised passes threaded between befuddled defenders and a quick thinker in the crowded area...... What more can you say about this gifted player. To be honest I didn't feel sorry when he wasn't getting time at Barca and shipped to Germany. I actually took the "You see why you should have stayed...?" stance; but, looking back at memories of him, I can only hope some good side gives him another chance and trust him with a good run of games.
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27/01/2012 17:32:00

...For a moment, seeing the article picture, I had thought this was an advocacy for his return. For me, that is a No-no!
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27/01/2012 17:34:00

Ultimately not effective enough, Leroy Lita has quick feet too I hear. Textbook example of what happens to you when you leave Arsenal (for the most part). Toodle pip
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27/01/2012 17:34:00

I was a massive fan of Hleb's and truth to tell, my dark secret, is that I've never totally fallen out of love with him -- as a player, of course. My feelings about watching him play have certainly dampened but I still love to watch him in his Arsenal games and occasionally in his German career after leaving Barca. I sometimes watch Belarus just to get a glimpse of the old Hleb I used to love watching in the red and white. Another player I shouldn't have "fallen in love with" is Luis Suarez. I'd watch the eredivisie just to see him. Truth to tell, can't help it, still love to see him play. I love watching him on his national team. One player I definitely had fallen in love with for awhile when he was at Santos was Robinho-I soon fell COMPLETELY out of love with him not too long after he'd joined Real Madrid. Fortunately I can honestly say I was never "in love" with Ade.
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27/01/2012 17:37:00

Hleb,for me, was a totally over-rated player and I for one was not too bothered to see him leave,not least for his phenomenally irritating over-elaboration on a football and his mysterious phobia of shooting. His leaving and tremendous demise in career fortunes is a classic case of "the grass is hardly ever greener away from THE ARSENAL"
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27/01/2012 17:53:00

He was our best player in 2007/08.. GHGooner
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27/01/2012 18:02:00

Hleb's close control was second bar none. And I think his lack of goals was blown out of proportion coz he more than made up for it with his pre-assists / assists.
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27/01/2012 18:03:00

With everything going on at the moment it's quite surreal to see an article concerning Dribbly McNoscore of all people, if we're that eager for players with ***** all end product let's all post links of Gervindohs African adventures, they're quite something! My face is black and blue from face palming at all the spamedy misfiring. David Deins' sunbed gives you more of a natural finish FFS.
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27/01/2012 18:51:00

Gervinho left his scoring boots somewhere between Lille and his 2011 summer holiday destination. His goal mouth misses have become the highlight of his country's games. Only consolation is seeing how he keeps getting into scoring positions. He is not representing well one bit.
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27/01/2012 19:37:00

I thought I was the only of my favourite players...highlights include Villa away in the 07/08 season..he was incredible in that game and only a quite horrendous challenge from carew could stop him...the assist for Cesc at Anfield in the same season..the assist for Diaby at Anfiled in the same season..the 3 chances he put on a plate for Adebayor at Old Trafford that year...I could go on...the perfect example of the Cesc, Flamini and Hleb combination was the opening 20 mins at Anfield in that ill-fated Champions League game...he also rarely got injured despite the attention his skills received...i'd like to think that the Eduardo injury scarred him and precipitated his's the only way I cope
Anon 1
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27/01/2012 19:55:00

lol, scarred him so much he felt that joining Birmingham was the only way to be safe Anon?
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27/01/2012 20:04:00

I'm not so sure even about musicians. I fell in love with Kings of Leon once, they betrayed themselves beyond recognition with their latest Bryan Admas esc dross. Hell ive even seen Paul McCartney on X Factor and Iggy Pop selling insurance. Sometimes you have to ask yourselves, havent these *****s got enough money already? Hleb & Flamini had it good, they got greedy and ended up ruining their own careers as well as setting their clubs back a step.
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27/01/2012 20:51:00

Mild betrayal of a pants LP isn't so bad HY. Spare a thought for whichever poor soul was the erstwhile president of the Gary Glitter fan club, a human being that will possibly never love again.
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27/01/2012 21:11:00

That HY is why I usually prefer dead musicians. At least when I do see the ghosts of Hendrix and Cobain dancing across the screen singing "holidays are coming" it won't be their fault. Niko, careful, you know Hleb's loan in Germany just got cut short. He's available on a free this January........
Little Dutch
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27/01/2012 22:27:00

nikolaijns..if you can't beat them...join them.....don't tease me LD
Anon 1
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27/01/2012 22:40:00

I'd still take the bloke in a heartbeat LD lol, pay him in a vanload of Hagen Daaz lol, any reinforcements are desperately welcome.
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27/01/2012 23:28:00


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