Pablo Zabaleta will end a nine year association with Manchester City as the season ends this week. The Argentine international has become something of a fan favourite at the Etihad. The defenders departure will be sorely felt by fans and colleagues alike. Here’s why I will miss seeing ‘Zaba’ in a City shirt.
Modern day football, when breathing too heavily on an opponent can be seen as justification to fall over in an attempt to ‘win’ a foul. This often has us reminiscing upon the ‘good old days’. Those of us of a certain vintage will look back fondly on a time when hard tackles were exactly that, hard. When players would thump into each other without fear of an opponent rolling around afterwards as if they had been shot. When players would pick up injuries and soldier on for the cause rather than bail out for self-preservation. Those days may be largely in the past, but they live on in players like Pablo Zabaleta.
A true footballing throwback in the toughness stakes. ‘Zaba’ has almost certainly had more head bandages applied during games than he has goals scored. Indeed, when City fans look back fondly on their soon to be former fullback, they will surely picture an image of him with a bloodied dressing wrapped round his head.
For it is this attitude which truly wins over a team’s fans. To put the team first over one’s own well-being. To fight to the end in the face of any obstructions thrown your way. City fans could see that in Pablo Zabaleta, they loved him for it. They also saw themselves. It is rare in this day and age to see any player on the pitch care about the club they are playing for in the same way as a fan. Especially in the case of Zabaleta who grew up thousands of miles away from Manchester.
credit Corey-Adam Crowley
Place in History
A pre-takeover signing, albeit by a day, Pablo Zabaleta arrived at a very different Manchester City to the one he will leave behind. Mark Hughes brought the right-back to the club from Spanish side Espanyol for around £6.4 million. Zabaleta made 29 appearances in a pretty uneventful debut campaign which saw City finish tenth. It’s sometimes difficult to remember the City of that time given what has happened in the short time since. ‘Zaba’ leaves City with every major honour in the English game, 2 league titles, 2 league cups and an FA Cup.
His place in club history cemented on the last day of the 2011-12 season when he scored the first goal in the now famous 3-2 victory over QPR. Although it may not be the most well remembered of goals that day, it will certainly never be forgotten. I remember sitting at half time saying, ‘I hope it finishes 1-0 so Zabaleta gets to score the winner’. That’s the type of player ‘Zaba’ is, you want him to do well because you can see what it means to him. I remember my parents coming to a game at the Etihad and my mum, who knows next to nothing about football, pointed out that she ‘liked the one with the black and yellow boots as he seemed to be running about and doing more than the rest’. Even to the uneducated, the Argentine stood out.
credit Smabs Sputzer
Legend is a word that is thrown around often in football. I’m going to give it another chuck here, Pablo Zabaleta is a Manchester City club legend. Over three hundred games and several major honours over nine years earned this. But for me it’s the relationship the Argentine has with the City fans which really confirms his status. I’ve no doubt that the ‘Zabaleta song’ will be heard ringing around the Etihad for years to come. Not every player gets their own song, not every player would provoke such a reaction upon leaving a club either.
Stories of off-field shenanigans often overshadow what players accomplish on the pitch. With Zabaleta though, any stories I’ve read are nothing but endearing. He would watch Coronation Street in order to improve his English and was a fan of his local chippy. Always prepared to spare a minute to talk with fans, as nice a guy off the field as he was tough on it.
Vincent Kompany, the only other player remaining from pre-takeover City, was full of praise for his long time defensive colleague. ‘If you need to go to war in the big games, you know you’ve got Zaba with you’ said the Captain. Kompany also pointed to the fact that Zabaleta’s attacking ability is often overlooked. He added though that ‘he will always be remembered for his tackles though, I think that’s what he wants’. I think that sums up the man. He doesn’t want the glory of scoring the goals, or even setting them up, which he often did. He wants to be remembered for the tackles, getting stuck in. That’s what I will remember him for, the tenacity and desire. He is the epitome of a ‘heart on your sleeve’ type player.
As all good things must come to an end, so Pablo Zabaleta’s Manchester City career has reached its finale. West Ham appears to be where he will ply his trade from now on. He may be wearing a different badge on his chest from next season but we all know that ‘Zaba’ will always be City. A genuine club legend who will be missed all through the club. I hope he enjoys his send off and the rest of his career. He deserves it. As the song goes, ‘Pablo Zabaleta, he is the f**king man’!
City fans, where does Zabaleta rank in terms of the clubs historic full backs? Let us know in the comments below!