La Liga Legends: Pablo Aimar

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Pablo Aimar is a retired attacking midfielder from Argentina, who was part of Valencia’s great generation in the early 2000s.

It was on the streets, playing late into the evening with his friends, that Alfie Mercado, a youth coach at local club Estudiantes de Río Cuarto, spotted something special in a young boy called Pablo Aimar.

Offered the chance to join the academy without even trialing, Pablo would practice three times a week at the fourth tier side, before joining River Plate’s football school in 1993.

Aimar’s father initially prevented him from joining River as he felt he was too young to be playing football but relented after manager Daniel Passarella personally asked him to allow his son to play.

He debuted for the club in 1996 and spent five seasons at El Monumental, scoring 21 goals and recording 28 assists in 82 league appearances.

Having established a reputation as one of the country’s most exciting youngsters, Aimar moved to Valencia in January 2001 for a club-record fee of €24 million.

The Valencia squad at the time, led by the enigmatic Hector Cuper, featured a host of attacking stars in Gaizka Mendieta, Vicente, Ruben Baraja, Adrien Ilie and John Carew. Aimar, however, settled in with ease and immediately became a vital part of the first team.

They reached the Champions League final in his first six months, but unfortunately, it ended in failure as Valencia lost to Bayern Munich on penalties.

In Almar’s first full season for the club, Rafa Benitez was appointed as new manager of Valencia and led the club to the first La Liga title in 31 years.

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Pablo was now the key creative hub alongside Baraja, dropping into deeper areas to help with Benítez’s carefully planned organization and playing from there whilst also providing defensive protection.

Although it meant that he would spend more time further away from the opposition goal, he would also spend more time on the ball, using his close control and amazing vision to open up play and set free the likes of Kily Gonzalez, Rufete and Vicente on the flanks.

Aimar’s best season with Valencia was 2003/04 when he won a league and UEFA Cup double.

He didn’t manage to score a goal in the UEFA Cup and started the final against Marseille on the bench, but the Argentine was one of the best players in Valencia’s most successful season in recent history.

They also won the UEFA Super Cup and Supercopa de Espana at the start of the following season, which was his final year at Mestalla.

Pablo Aimar joined Zaragoza in 2006, before moving to Benfica two years later.

He formed a deadly partnership with his compatriots Javier Saviola and Angel di Maria and they won the Portuguese title in 2010. Aimar also won the League Cup four consecutive times from 2009 to 2012.

The midfielder returned to River Plate at the very end of his career and announced his retirement on 14 July 2015.