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

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.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Friday January 27 2012
Time: 2:05PM


Ah Hleb, the master of the 'pre-assist'.
No 10
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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"
27/01/2012 17:53:00
He was our best player in 2007/08.. GHGooner
27/01/2012 18:02:00
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