Goal.Commentary: Where In The World Is Pablo Aimar?

Argentina has struggled a bit in World Cup qualifying, leading one to wonder why their great magician has disappeared.
 By Abdullah Shams Al-Deen       

Over the course of centuries, archeologists take on great distances and hardships over the world to uncover priceless treasures that are lost and well forgotten, yet still invaluable. Unfortunately, the football world is not too different.      

Today, young players are dubbed every once in a blue moon as the next Maradona, (of course we all know only Lionel Messi legally claims that title) or the next Cafu, or even the next Zidane. Like golden treasures yet to reach their true value, young talent emerge every now and then however, what becomes of the lost ones, buried under the elite clubs hunger for young blood? Has the football world transformed to a superficial Hollywood-like industry?      

The “El Dorado” of the past several years is one player who has been lost and seemingly enough, never been recovered, Pablo Aimar, “El Mago” (the magician) is missing from the limelight.      

"Pablo is the only current footballer I'd pay to watch," Diego Maradona said at the time of Aimar's £13 million transfer to Valencia (unaware of what was being produced in the Barca youth academy of course). "He's been the best player in Argentina for the last couple of years and he's a great kid. Understandably enough that Maradona said this at a time of Aimars rise, nevertheless it was said.      

Pablo Cesar Aimar began his ascent to stardom with River Plate, whose first team he joined for the 1997-98 season, after rejecting a place at medical school, and with whom he quickly established himself as one of the best young players in Argentina. Valencia CF signed Aimar in January 2001, at a price of €24 million. When Aimar came to Valencia, he found the team at the end of a transition period. They were finally ready to fight for the League against the likes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and the club also had high hopes for Champions League that year. Aimar fit right into the mostly-Spanish Valencia squad and he put all his efforts in achieving the club's goals. The purchase proved justified, as Aimar helped lead the team to a first-place finish in 2001-02 (with 33 matches and four goals), as well as to a runners-up finish in the previous seasons's Champions League, being defeated by Bayern Munich. Aimar also won the 2004 UEFA Cup, beating Olympique de Marseille in the final.      

During the summer of 2006, the hype surrounding Aimar died down and the player lost some of his form. Aimar joined Real Zaragoza for €12 million. The Aragonese side would be relegated at the end of 2007-08, with the playmaker appearing in 22 scoreless matches, while also often hindered with injuries.      

On 17 July 2008, after a period of intense negotiations, Aimar signed a four-year contract with Portuguese side S.L. Benfica, for a fee of €6.5 million. After a difficult first half of the season, he managed to defeat his constant injuries and finished it in good shape.      

So, where in the world is Pablo Aimar? Yes he is in Benfica of Portugal, but on a broader level, why have we not seen this once one of the hottest prospects in football? Injuries may have played a significant part, although being out of the top three leagues in Europe, with all due respect to Benfica and the league they play in, may be the essential problem.     

Many Aimar devotees would argue that the downfall of Pablo was directed to the accumulating and constant injuries, which was an obvious setback to his Speedy-Gonzalez style of play. Seemingly enough, he never recovered his edge, the form that won him many plaudits.      

Was the summer of 2006 perhaps one of the reasons for the sudden drop in form? Aimar's shocking transfer to Zaragoza from Valencia must have had some kind of consequence on his mental state. Being at a club like Valencia and playing for several beautiful seasons and winning La Liga, even though losing at Champions League final to Bayern nevertheless he was there, then a transfer to Zaragoza, a team who would later be relegated, Aimar must have had his spirit broken.       

Motivation could be a factor. An essential element of every player's rise to greatness and achievement is motivation and a great deal of ambition. Aimar’s first move to Valencia was what we call a dream move for a player of his age. Aimar was pumped with the right amount of motivation which in turn translates into high quality performance. Therefore, without the right drive and enthusiasm the performance would not be the same.      
A clear and modern example of this issue is Ronaldinho. He went to Barcelona from Paris Saint German as a player who won nothing and had not received the amount of global coverage that we all came to notice. After winning all on a course of several seasons with the Catalans, his form began to dip; the Ronaldinho that dazzled millions over the world became complacent with his form, seemingly satisfied with himself.      

Every Aimar fan would love to see the player back where he belongs, making headlines and playing in big games; his every-so-often smile, silky play and sudden tricks are dearly missed.

What is next for the long-haired maestro? The transfer season is open; hopefully a small team from Italy, England or Spain that’s competing in the champions league next season can rediscover the buried treasure that is Pablo Aimar and bring him back to life and for the world to catch a late glimpse of this dying star, before he turns into a white dwarf, and vanishes into the dark.

Abdullah Shams Al-Deen is an occasional contributor to Goal.com