“Arsenal was fantastic, the greatest time of my life,” he says. “I love the club, the coaches, my friends. Unbelievable. Everything was a dream. It’s difficult to say why I left.”
leb won the treble in his first season at Guardiola’s Barca, but he was a peripheral figure and pinpoints leaving Arsenal as the turning point in his career.
“Have I fulfilled my potential? No, I made a lot of mistakes,” he says. “That’s why I am not 100 per cent happy with my career. Going to Barca was a tough call, but after that everything was a mistake. I lost my best years.”
Hleb was loaned to former club Stuttgart in 2009, and since then has been loaned or transferred 11 times, taking in spells at Birmingham City and in Turkey and Russia.
Reflecting on his Arsenal days, Hleb shakes his head wistfully, as if recalling a former lover he never quite got over.
“I enjoyed my life, woke up with a smile, went to training and loved it,” he says. “Cesc, [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.”