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£11.9m ex-Arsenal star available on a free transfer in January

Whatever happened to former Arsenal man Alex Hleb? There's no way he could come back, is there...?

If you are asked to name players who should never have left Arsenal, the chances are Aleksandr Hleb will be one of the first names to pop into your mind.

The attacking midfielder was onto a good thing at the Gunners, but jumped ship to Barcelona in a £11.9 million deal as soon as the Catalans began showing an interest, with seemingly no consideration he was unlikely to ever become a regular at the club.

That was back in 2008, where he signed after three seasons with the Gunners. His time there was a disaster, and after three loan spells including one with Birmingham, his Barcelona career ended with his contract being terminated in mid-2011.

So what is he up to nowdays?

Hleb can be found playing in the Wyschejschaja Liga, in his homeland of Belarus, for BATE Borisov.

Borisov memorably defeated Bayern Munich 3-1 last October in the Champions League group stages, with Hleb featuring from the start. 

However this season was a nightmare. They were eliminated in the first qualifying round, two before Arsenal entered, by Kazakshtan entrants, Shakhter Karagandy, who would go onto give Celtic a scare.

Now with the Belarussian season due to end in November, Hleb finds his contract running out officially on December 31.

On a personal level he has had a mediocre campaign, scoring three times and providing five assists in 23 matches. 

The 32-year-old told Russian newspaper Izvestia this week he would consider a move to Russian side Kuban Krasnodar where his former manager coaches, after he was linked by another media outlet in the country.

It appears he is looking for a new adventure, but he should not bet on being invited back to Arsenal.

Even though Wenger has a penchant for bringing back his old players on free transfers - see Lehmann, Henry, Campbell and Flamini, Hleb would surely be a step too far.

He has lost the sharpness which once made him such an exciting player, and has not played regular football in any of Europe's top league, really since leaving the Gunners in 2008.

His tale will remain a cautionary one to Arsenal players, that the grass is not always greener elsewhere.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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