Football truly is the world game, with countries not wholeheartedly renowned for their pedigree starting to look for foreign assistance over the last decade to raise the profile of the sport.
Following in the footsteps of countless European stars that have plied their trade in the MLS in the United States, the ever-increasing number of experienced internationals moving to the Middle East and China and Alessandro Del Piero’s move to Australia, Pablo Aimar will delight football lovers in Malaysia.
Malaysia are currently ranked 161st in the world, between Puerto Rico and Myanmar. However, football is widely acknowledged as the most-popular sport in the Asian country and with over 26 million inhabitants there is no reason that the stature of the game cannot grow.
Aimar has the standing and reputation to help the development of the sport in the country. The diminutive Argentine has signed a two-year contract with Johor Darul Takzim, a team based in the south of the country with big ambitions. They are also set to be managed by César Ferrando Giménez, who previously coached Atletico Madrid back in 2004-05.
In Aimar the Asian country have signed a star player. From humble beginnings in Río Cuarto, the attacking midfielder broke into the River Plate senior side as a fresh-faced teenager and was one of many to be labeled ‘the next Maradona’. It was instantly clear to see why; not only did Aimar have a similar haircut to the former Argentine great, but his range of passing, vision and creativity promised a career at the top of the game.
After three years playing in his homeland, the inevitable move to Europe came, with Valencia the side to capture the playmaker’s signature. Such was the prodigious talent of the South American, Los Che splurged €24 million to bring him to the Mestalla.
Valencia were a star-studded outfit in those days, capable of going head-to-head with the traditional powerhouses of the Spanish game, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and winning. Aimar played with Valencia for five seasons, winning La Liga twice and the UEFA Cup. He was also part of the side that lost out to Bayern Munich in the 2000-01 Champions League final.
Glimpses of his mercurial ability were evident during his time at the Mestalla club, but it is fair to say that Aimar never really lived up to his star billing and showed inconsistency. He was also plagued by niggling injuries at Valencia, a feature that has played its part through his entire career.
After a €12 million move to Real Zaragoza, the Argentine enjoyed an exciting start to his tenure with his new employers, but was unable to prevent the side being relegated in 2007-08. After demotion to the Segunda División, Aimar moved to Benfica, where he has played for the last five years.
In his time in Portugal he won one Primeira Liga title and finished as runner-up to Chelsea in last season’s Europa League final. His partnership with fellow River Plate prodigy Javier Saviola was a key aspect of the Estadio da Luz side’s title success in 2009-10.
The attacking midfielder also amassed 52 caps for Argentina, no mean feat, and played in two World Cups over a ten-year period.
At 33 years old Aimar’s time at the top has now been played, but a new challenge awaits him. Similar to someone like Del Piero, the South American now has a different task awaiting him – awaken a country with mass footballing potential through his experience and reputation in the world game.