Archive for June 9th, 2005

Aleksander Hleb might be the new Bergkamp

9 comments June 9th, 2005

One thing’s for sure: he is not, as some newspapers have suggested, an alternative to Shaun Wright-Phillips.

If Hleb is going to play on the right-hand side, it will not be as a tricky winger who gets to the byline, but more in the manner in which Cesc Fabregas performed so impressively towards the back end of this season.

My knowledge of Hleb is not great. I go only on his performances against Manchester United and Chelsea in the Champions League, the opinion of a friend who works as an OPTA analyst for the Bundesliga, and tonight’s Scotland vs Belarus match, in which Hleb started for the latter.

But on this basis, I feel prepared to say that he shares more with Dennis Bergkamp than a propensity towards the number 10 shirt.

For Stuttgart, Hleb tends to play as an attacking midfielder, supporting the striker from a deep-lying role. His goalscoring record is really rather poor, but he is consistently top of their “assists” chart, not least because of his remarkable ability to deliver dangerous set pieces.

Hleb is a little like Pavel Nedved, but admittedly not yet as good. He is an excellent dribbler, with broad passing range, and the ability to split a defence in one moment of brilliance. But he is a famously frustrating footballer.

Too often he will nutmeg one defender, pirouette past another, before passing the ball straight out for a throw-in. He is one of the great “nearly” men, hence why no big club has yet taken a gamble on him.

But the same “nearly” tag could so easily have been applied to Thierry Henry. The potential was there, but it needed Arsene Wenger’s magic touch to unleash it.

Hleb does not have enough physical presence to play central midfield in our system. He does, however, have the talent to operate as a wide man in the Pires mould, or as a secondary striker.

I am not suggesting that Aleksander Hleb is, or ever will be as good as Bergkamp. Nor am I suggesting that he should be brought in as Thierry Henry’s new strike partner: Robin van Persie is showing himself to be the man for that job.

But I do believe that if, as I predict, he does arrive, he could be our joker in the attacking pack: the man who, with Bergkamp on the way out, has the potential to unlock the tightest of defence in a split second.

But not for more than £8m, please.

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