By 90Min
October 25, 2018

Former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb has confessed he still regrets leaving the Gunners back in 2008.

The Belarusian swapped London for Barcelona at the peak of his career but only spent one season playing in Spain before being loaned out for three consecutive seasons. 

After failing to ever recapture the form he found at Arsenal, his Barcelona contract was cancelled by mutual consent during the January 2012 transfer window.

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Speaking recently with the Telegraph ahead of his current side BATE Borisov's Europa League clash with Chelsea on Thursday, Hleb reflected on his career and looked back at his time with Arsenal with particular fondness.

He said: “Arsenal was fantastic, the greatest time of my life. I love the club, the coaches, my friends. Unbelievable. Everything was a dream. It’s difficult to say why I left.

“I enjoyed my life, woke up with a smile, went to training and loved it.

Cesc [Fabregas], [Mathieu] Flamini, [Tomas] Rosicky and Robin [van Persie] were my best friends. We were like brothers. We enjoyed each other’s company and knew automatically where each other would be on the pitch.”

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Hleb's time at Arsenal was ultimately defined by a few painful near misses. In his three years at the club between 2005 and 2008, Hleb suffered defeats in Champions League and League Cup finals. 

He was also part of the team that topped the Premier League by five points in February 2008 only to finish third, losing form after Eduardo's infamous leg break against Birmingham.

Despite failing to pick up any silverware with the Gunners, Catalan giants Barcelona came in with a £12m offer and Hleb decided he could not say no to one of Europe’s greatest teams.

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Speaking of the transfer, he explained: “When I spoke to my friends they were like, 'Are you crazy? Barca are the best team in the world, you have to go there'.”

But the £12m man failed to find any great form playing for the Blaugrana and was left out of the Champions League final squad at the end of his first season. Three loan spells followed before he left for Russian side Krylia Sovetov in 2012.

Hleb blamed his poor relationship with Barca manager Pep Guardiola as a reason behind his failure, adding: “I wanted to play, and I got angry with Pep. Now I understand this was my fault.

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“Have I fulfilled my potential? No, I made a lot of mistakes. 

“That’s why I am not 100 percent happy with my career. Going to Barca was a tough call, but after that everything was a mistake. I lost my best years.”

However, it seems Hleb still remains a fan of the club where he played his best football. When asked of Arsenal's chances of maintaining a title push this season, Hleb said: “Of course. They start not good, but now like a rocket they go up.”

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