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Aloisi: Nekounam highly rated at Osasuna

Sydney: John Aloisi may not have shared a dressing room with Javad Nekounam, but he knows plenty about his fellow former Osasuna player.

Former Australia striker Aloisi scored 37 goals in 129 appearances for the club from 2001 to 2005, while IR Iran’s Nekounam, who joined in 2006, would go on to become a fan favourite over two stints and nearly 200 matches for Los Rojillos.

The duo - alongside another former Iranian Osasuna star, Masoud Shojaei - are both in the running for this week’s Asia’s Greatest Players in Spanish Football poll, and according to Aloisi, Nekounam was a highly respected figure at the club.

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“I am very familiar with Nekounam, because he was a really good midfielder at Osasuna,” Aloisi told from Australia.

“The supporters really liked him, but also the players that I spoke to rated him very highly. He was able to dictate the tempo of the game but also, defensively he was brilliant. He could run all day, and he suited the way that the team and Spanish football was."

“Usually the Spanish look more to South America for foreigners because it’s an easy transition for the players. They adapt very well, but slowly the Asian market is opening up, because they realise there are technically very good players in Asia who are very tough.

“They can push throughout difficult situations and they don’t give up because they’ve come through a very different background. I think that’s why the Iranian players did well in Spain, especially at Osasuna.”

Asia’s Greatest Players in Spanish Football

Asian players in La Liga were few and far between when Aloisi joined Osasuna in 2001, but fast forward nearly two decades and there is a significant and growing Asian presence in the Spanish top flight.

China PR national team star Wu Lei has shown his quality for Espanyol, scoring in the club’s 2-0 win over Alavés on Saturday, while exciting young prospects like Korea Republic’s Lee Kang-in and Japanese duo Takefusa Kubo and Hiroki Abe have all been signed by Spanish superclubs.

Aloisi welcomes the increasing connection between Spanish clubs and Asian players, but, with only Mat Ryan appearing in the league since his own 2006 departure, the former Socceroos striker hopes to also see Australian footballers feature in the country.

“The Chinese, Koreans and Japanese – that market has opened up more,” he said. “Wu Lei at Espanyol – he’s done really well.

“Kubo is an amazing talent, plus a lot of these players are starting to go over to Spain at a very young page. Kubo was 15 or 16 or maybe even younger, so it it’s bit different. They’re adjusted, they speak the language well. I’m hoping that in five or 10 years you’ll see that there’s been a lot more Asian players.”

“I’m not sure about Australian players, because that market still hasn’t really kicked on. I was hoping that it would have, but there hasn’t been too many that have gone there and played.

“I think Australian players would do well in Spain, and they’d enjoy it. Hopefully in the future we see more Aussies over there. Especially now that Spanish football is on TV Australia, and they’re talking about it a lot more, because it is such a great competition.”

Aloisi’s time on the Iberian Peninsula was full of happy memories, with the former Socceroo rubbing shoulders with, and, on some occasions, coming out on the winning side against some of world football’s biggest stars.

Since retiring he has become a coach, taking charge of Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar in Australia’s A-League, and the ex-striker, who also played top flight football in Italy and England, says the Spanish game had left a lasting influence.

“It wasn’t just about winning, it was winning playing a certain style of football, and you notice that with most of the teams in Spain,” he said. “Occasionally you’ll win and not play at your best, but the majority of the time they want to see their teams playing a certain style of football."

“The fans are as passionate as those in England and Italy, but they were more demanding in terms of seeing their teams playing well and winning, and that’s probably why they had that success (in Spanish national team), because if you play and you play well over a period of time, you’re going to get the results.

“I took a lot out of Spain. Not only from the games, but also the training methods. That’s where I enjoyed my football the most, and I think the more that you enjoy going to training, and also playing games, the more you’re going to improve and the better you’re going to be.

“Sometimes it can feel like a job, and it can be a grind, but Spain was probably the place where I really experienced enjoying playing, and that’s why I think it’s important to enjoy what you do. That’s what I try to pass on in coaching.”

Who is your favourite Asian player in Spanish football? Vote below (Poll ends at 16:00 UTC +8 on June 18).

Photos: AFP

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