Alexander Hleb, Arsenal and Belarus midfielder
Attacking midfielder Alexander Hleb's influence in the Barclays English Premier League is increasing rapidly. Hleb took time to find his feet after moving to Arsenal two years ago but now seems well settled and has played a big part in the club's fine start to the season.
Hleb's story is the classic rags-to-riches tale. The 26-year-old, whose Christian name has been Anglicised from the native Aleksandr, grew up in poverty in Minsk before striking it rich as a footballer in the West, first with German club Stuttgart and then Arsenal.
Hleb's parents worked hard to make ends meet during his childhood, his father a bus driver and his mother a bricklayer. When Hleb was four his father was 'volunteered' to help with the clear-up after the Chernobyl disaster. He was away for six months demolishing houses affected by radiation. Hleb is convinced his father's health was badly affected and he is still suffering the side-effects today.
Hleb remembers the fall of the Iron Curtain at the age of 10 and the formation of the separate Belarus republic.
Such was his impoverished upbringing that he did not own a pair of football boots until the age of 12. He learned his game playing on concrete pitches, avoiding the injuries that befell a number of his contemporaries and forced them to stop playing.
At 17, he signed for the tractor factory workers' team Bate Borisov and immediately caught the eye. He won the domestic title in his first season and within two years was snapped up by Stuttgart.
Under the tutelage of manager Felix Magath, Hleb developed in to a feared playmaker and earned international recognition. He was outstanding as Stuttgart finished Bundesliga runners-up in 2003 and enjoyed a run in the UEFA Champions League.
That impressive team began to break up, however, after Magath moved to Bayern Munich and Hleb had a number of disagreements with his replacement Matthias Sammer.
Arsenal kept an eye on the situation and pounced in the northern summer of 2005 with a successful GBP10million ($A22.7million) bid.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger did not expect immediate returns from his signing but the fee was difficult for observers and fans to ignore.
Arriving as the talismanic Patrick Vieira left also gave Hleb a lot more to live up to and he initially struggled to make an impact.
That began to change towards the end of the season as Arsenal reached the UEFA Champions League final. He became a regular in the 2006-07 campaign and has been outstanding during the Gunners' excellent start to the current season.
Hleb recently said that he enjoyed a good break, taking a trip home, holidaying in Turkey and the United States and spending a lot of time with his girlfriend. His mother should be pleased.
"He doesn't have a girlfriend - he's so obsessed with his career that he has no time," she said at the time of his move to Arsenal. "I hope he meets someone nice soon."
Hleb is now reaping the rewards of his hard work, earning a salary reputedly in the region of GBP60,000 ($A136,200) per week. His childhood was markedly different.
"There was always a lack of money," said his mother, who earned around GBP20 ($A45.40) per week laying bricks. "We depended on relatives to give us food."
"He was about nine when my brother, also called Aleksandr, won a real leather football. He gave it to our son."
"God, that was a happy moment. Aleksandr, his brother and other boys would spend their days and nights playing football."
Growing up in such a close-knit family, Hleb found it hard when he first moved to Germany.
"My heart was bleeding because I knew it would be a very hard time for him," Lidia Hleb said. "Initially it was a nightmare. Several times he called to say he was planning to come home."
"But then he said, no, he was going to stay. He wanted to show he was strong, and he has done that."
Hleb acquired something of a playboy reputation in his younger days at Stuttgart and did attract criticism back home for his lifestyle.
He was noted for his women and fast cars but a car accident in his Audi back in Minsk forced him to reassess his lifestyle.
ONE TO REMEMBER:
Hleb got Arsenal's current season up and running when he netted a last-gasp goal to secure a 2-1 win over Fulham at the Emirates Stadium on the opening day.
ONE TO FORGET:
One of the reasons for Hleb's slow start at Arsenal was a knee injury. Hleb played in a World Cup qualifier against Scotland in October 2005 but returned needing surgery and was ruled out for two months.
Belarus Caps: 34
Belarus Goals: 4
Belarus Debut: v Wales, October 2001
hard life? be thankful
ps: td last day primary skool visit to kilkenny primary, good stuff...gamba2 ade kat sini... assignment sket lg nk siap tp nk tdo dlu.. hahahaha