Alexander Hleb is coming out of retirement at the age of 40 to sign for Bahraini Premier League side, Al Khaldiya, for the new season.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 16: Aleksandr Hleb of Arsenal looks dejected during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON 5th Round match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on February 16, 2008 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 16: Aleksandr Hleb of Arsenal looks dejected during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON 5th Round match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on February 16, 2008 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Alexander Hleb hung up his boots in March, 2020, after a brief spell with Isloch in Minsk.

The former Arsenal midfielder, who always regretted leaving London for Barcelona after that fateful Italian ice-cream, has decided that he still has something left in his legs, despite turning 40 in March.

Al Khaldiya were formed towards the end of 2020, seven months after Hleb retired. They won promotion from the second division to the Premier League in their first season, finishing second in the league, three points behind the winners, Al Hala, and five ahead of third-placed Al Ittifaq Maqaba.

I can’t really tell you much more about them because there isn’t much to tell. The club is, after all, barely nine months old and they don’t even have a full squad listed on Transfermarkt. They’ve only ever played 20 professional games (18 league, 2 King’s Cup) winning 13, drawing two and losing five. They kept 10 cleansheets in their debut season out of 18 league games and only failed to score in four.

Beyond that, there’s not much more to know.

It is possible that Hleb could be moving there in some sort of coaching capacity. After he re-signed for BATE Borisov in 2019, Hleb said, “In the future, I have a desire to get a coaching license. I plan to learn to coach in parallel with the career of a football player. Most likely, I will start coaching courses in Moscow.”

Alexander Hleb’s career

Trainer Arsene Wenger (Mitte) jubelt mit dem Torschützen Cesc Fabregas (2.v.li.), Aliaksandr Hleb (2.v.re.) und Bakari Sagna (alle Arsenal, re.), der vierte Offizielle Alan Wiley bemüht sich um Ordnung - Francesc, Francesco, Bacary, Bacari, quer, Jubel, Torjubel, Alexander o0 Ersatzschiedsrichter, Ersatz Schiedsrichter, 4., Vierter Offizieller, English Premier League 2007/2008, 1. Englische Liga, Arsenal FC London, Vdig London Freude, Begeisterung, Fußball Herren Mannschaft Deutschland Gruppenbild optimistisch Randmotiv Personen Copyright: imago/Sportimage
Trainer Arsene Wenger  Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb and Bakary Sagna  Copyright: imago/Sportimage

Hleb, master of the pre-assist at Arsenal, signed in 2005 from VfB Stuttgart for £13.5m. He made 130 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 10 and assisting 18, before being sold to Barcelona in 2008 for £15.3m.

The Belarussian only made 36 appearances for Barca, scoring none and assisting three and his four years in Spain saw him sent on loan to Birmingham (24 appearances, 2 goals, five assists) and Wolfsburg (4, 1, 0) before he joined KS Samara on a free transfer in 2012.

The rest of Hleb’s career was spent bouncing around the lesser-featured leagues on free transfers, turning up at BATE Borisov (four times), Konyaspor, Genclerbirligi (twice), KS Samara again, before finally landing at Isloch in Minsk, where he retired.

At one point, he even spent nine months without a club and moved around twice a year between 2015 and 2018.

Alexander Hleb's transfer history via Transfermarkt
Alexander Hleb’s transfer history via Transfermarkt

“It’s still difficult for me to explain why I left Arsenal,” Hleb told Planet Football in 2018.

“I was absolutely happy there. Arsene completely trusted me, it was idyllic. And then I decided to leave.

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 15: Aleksandr Hleb of FC BATE Borisov reacts during a press conference at BayArena on September 15, 2015 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images,)
LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 15: Aleksandr Hleb of FC BATE Borisov reacts during a press conference at BayArena on September 15, 2015 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images,)

“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 Arsene 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.

“Wenger is like a father to me. It was really easy to work with him, you always felt his support,” he said.

Thierry Henry hat die Schufterei im Training satt und setzt sich streikend auf den Ball, Trainer Arsene Wenger und Aliaksandr Hleb (2.v.li., alle Arsenal) wollen nicht glauben was sie da sehen - Alexander, Alexandar, Aleksander, Aleksandr, Aleksandar, Alexandr, Vdig, quer, Bälle, Coach, Streik, verweigern, Verweigerung, English Premier League 2005/2006, 1. Englische Liga, Arsenal FC London, Training London Komik, Fußball Herren Mannschaft England Gruppenbild optimistisch Randmotiv Personen Kurios. Copyright: imago/Paul Marriott
Copyright: imago/Paul Marriott

“During my first season in England, I picked up in injury while playing for the national team. So, as I was trying to recover from it, I told Arsene that maybe it would make sense to send me on loan to Germany or something.

“He was like, ‘Stop it! I believe in you! Don’t even think about things like that.’ Honestly? I just flew out of the room. It really felt like I had wings.

“Arsene truly feels his players. He says exactly what a player needs to hear.

“I think there are very few guys who might say that they haven’t enjoyed working with him.

“Everyone felt like they would get a chance. And I think most players who left ultimately regretted it.”

As for Wenger, he said about Hleb’s departure, “I would say at the time when he left for Barcelona, they were the best team in the world by a distance. You can understand that he was tempted to do it. It was not the right decision for him because he didn’t have the career after and I think it had a negative impact on his career.

“He was a great, great player but he played on the same side as Lionel Messi. That is nearly an impossible task for every player in the world.”

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.