“I regret leaving Arsenal. I was playing every week for one of the most exciting sides in Europe. I was being guided by one of the best coaches in the world in Arsene Wenger. I owe him a great deal. No player ever gets worse under Wenger. I developed a better all-round game under him. I became more robust physically.”
- Alex Hleb, regretting leaving Arsenal... again.
On a slow news day, Alex Hleb has spoken again about how much he regrets leaving Arsenal. At the time, given the protracted nature of the transfer, I got a bit annoyed at him. We'd come so close to winning the Premier League, and then within the space of a few weeks half our midfield deserted us for more glamorous European clubs.
But with the benefit of hindsight, I don't think he should be regretful. If you've supported Barcelona all your life, and one day they show an interest in you, you've got to go. Especially if you're 28 and it's the last chance you'll ever get to play for Barca. If it doesn't work out, so be it - at least you had the guts to take a chance. After all, the only things you should ever regret in life are the chances you didn't take.
I don't think we ever appreciated Hleb as much as we should have. I admit I was one of those who would shout "SHOOT!" at the computer screen whenever Hleb had the ball. And I was pretty blase at the prospect of him leaving, and pretty excited about Nasri coming in as his replacement. I didn't think we'd miss him that much.
But over the course of last season, I've realised what a great asset we lost when we sold Hleb. We lost a great dribbler, a creative force on the right and a guy who can retain possession. And it's that last bit that's really hurt us. Since we sold him, we haven't had anyone who can hold onto the ball while we transition between attack and defense. And we haven't had anyone who would soak up pressure in tight situations.
But would we have him back if we could? I don't think so. Since Hleb's departure, we picked up Nasri and Arshavin. We've switched to a 4-3-3 to compensate for the loss of Flamini's motor, the weakness of Denilson and Song, and to accommodate our wealth of dinky little attacking-midfielder-forwards. Hleb would still be a good fit for the side (aside from Arshavin, we still don't have anyone who can retain possession), but it's pointless to regret the transfer. We have to move on.
As Nick Hornby once said about Liam Brady, we never did replace him satisfactorily, but we found different people, with different qualities. Obviously, Alex Hleb's no Liam Brady, but you get my drift.