Former Arsenal midfielder Aleksandr Hleb has admitted that he cried when reading a text he was sent by Arsène Wenger just hours before joining FC Barcelona in a £15m transfer.
The 36-year-old, who earned 78 appearances for the Belarus national team, admitted that he "didn’t really understand" why he left Arsenal in 2008, claiming that it was advice from people closest to him that eventually saw Hleb sign the dotted line at the Camp Nou.
Hleb on Wenger: "Wenger is like a father to me. It was really easy to work with him, you always felt his support. I think there are very few guys who might say that they haven’t enjoyed working with him. And I think most players who left ultimately regretted it" #Arsenal pic.twitter.com/71imOkIeq8— Gurjit (@GurjitAFC) January 5, 2018
"It’s still difficult for me to explain why I left Arsenal,” Hleb said, as quoted by Planet Football. “I was absolutely happy there. Arsène completely trusted me, it was idyllic. And then I decided to leave.
"I was on vacation and agents and managers convinced me that I had to go to Barcelona. To be honest, I didn’t really understand what I was doing. At some point, I realised, ‘Oh god! I’m leaving Arsenal!’
"When Arsène said that it was a matter of hours, I felt devastated. It was really hard for me to accept that. Wenger did everything to make me stay at Arsenal.
"He even texted me as I was fishing. ‘Alex, I won’t let you go, we need you here.’ I cried when I read it."
Helb first joined Arsenal in 2005 for £13.5m, completing a move that has also seen Jens Lehmann and Serge Gnabry swap Stuttgart for north London during the Premier League era. The midfielder would go on to make 131 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 11 goals and claiming 16 assists.