The Argentinian playmaker is the crown jewel in a star-studded Southern Tigers side but, despite a classy performance, could not help his team to victory over LionsXII.
For 65 minutes on Tuesday night, Pablo Aimar enthralled all who watched the Malaysia Super League (MSL) clash between Johor Darul Takizm (JDT) and the LionsXII.
The Argentinian playmaker was the conductor of the orchestra for the hosts, drawing oohs and ahhs from a 30,000-strong capacity crowd at the Tan Sri Dato Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium.
Playing the game at what seemed like a walking pace, the 34-year-old oozed class all over the pitch. A neat spin and a casual through ball effortlessly released Luciano Figueroa to slide home the opener near the half hour mark. The former Benfica and Valencia man then doubled the lead minutes before half-time, brilliantly placing a free-kick into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
The visiting league champions were shell-shocked as they had no answer for Aimar, who was running the show with his precise passes and assured demeanour. It was a delight to witness him engineer tiny pockets of space in the midfield with his sublime first touch and precise movement. It was no wonder he was often the recipient of fouls from the LionsXII players.
But the performance also suggested that the Southern Tigers were all too reliant on Aimar. Indeed, as if right on cue, the substitution of their star man in the second half saw Khairul Amri halve the deficit mere moments after Aimar stepped from the field of play.
Minutes later, Hafiz Sujad gleefully tapped home the rebound after Safuwan Baharudin’s shot was parried into his path. Cesar Jimenez’s decision to take out his compatriot appeared to have caused his team to completely unravel.
Midfield terrier Shakir Shaari, so impressive playing behind Aimar, suddenly had no outlet pass. Starved of service, without his partner in crime, Figueroa struggled bravely up-front against a revitalised LionsXII back-line.
The tide had turned. Fandi Ahmad would have been disappointed not to see his charges snatch a sensational victory by the time the final whistle came. It seemed incredible that the substitution of one player could have precipitated such a turn of events.
JDT supporters have every right to expect Aimar, the highest-paid player in the Malaysia Super League, to be their leader-in-chief. But they cannot expect him to carry the team solely on his shoulder. With an array of Malaysian internationals and Singapore stalwarts (Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun) at their disposal, this team should be able to function without their best player.
The Johor Crown Prince brought Aimar to Malaysia, as a statement of intent, to spearhead their charge for trophies. But if his team does not improve, they risk alienating Aimar. It had been suggested, in certain media quarters, that the former Argentina International was already dissatisfied with life in Malaysia after just three games of the season. His body language after the game did not help to dispel such rumours.
With his pedigree, one can only imagine how good a happy Pablo Aimar could go on to be in the MSL. It is up to the rest of the JDT team to ensure that; so he will continue to light up the pitch during the rest of his two-year stint.