Pablo Zabaleta has confirmed that he will be leaving Manchester City in the summer transfer window. The Argentine will bring about an end to a nine-year spell at the Etihad when his contract comes to an end.
His departure will likely be a sad one for many a City fan. Arriving just a day before the takeover by Sheikh Mansour, Zabaleta has been nothing short of a key component of the club’s transformation.
His honours list is a testament to that: two titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups mean he has won everything in England; it is only European success that has eluded him.
For most, he is deserving of a new contract but it appears that Pep Guardiola thinks otherwise. The continuing links to Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker probably have something to do with it.
The England full-back is the best in the Premier League at this moment in time but he couldn’t have held a candle to Zabaleta in his day.
After 9 years of full blooded commitment, Paolo Zabaleta deserves the entire stadium to remain to the end to applaud him off on Tuesday.
— Tim Smallbone (@TimSmallbone) 14 May 2017
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At the top of his game, the now-32-year-old was among the best in Europe, few have got close to him over the last nine years. He was certainly the best in England for at least five of those.
If Dani Alves hadn’t hit such heights at Barcelona in the same period then Zabaleta could easily have been regarded as the best right-back in Europe; he was the perfect package, with attacking flair and defensive nous perfectly intertwined.
It is his never-say-die attitude and commitment to the club that put him above the rest, though. It’s those attributes that will see him leave as a cult hero.
While the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva took the headlines for star performances, it was Zabaleta that was often the bedrock of the team.
And that is why it is good to see him leaving when his stock is still high. Any longer and his reputation would be at risk of becoming tarnished.
Man City have announced Pablo Zabaleta will leave the club at the end of the season.
What a servant to the blue side of Manchester. ? pic.twitter.com/mP61RVvoTS
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) 13 May 2017
A look across Manchester will provide a clear demonstration of that. At Old Trafford resides a certain Wayne Rooney, the club captain and record goalscorer.
Rooney is a man who has won everything with the Red Devils but a look at social media suggests otherwise. Rooney is fast becoming a laughing stock at the club.
The 31-year-old has had a rough few years, the performances have dwindled drastically and as a result, his legacy is at risk. The talk is all about the best manner in which they can get rid.
He deserves more but arguably he should have left two or three years ago when his stock was still in the positive. Sticking around has only helped to add a negative end to a positive story.
Zabaleta would have risked the same had he stayed around at the Etihad any longer. A departure this summer is right for both parties.
Instead of fans lamenting a dwindling ability and debating his future, the Argentina can depart with his head held high. It’s how legends should bow out.
As yet, it is unknown what his future holds. What is certain, though, is that on his day Zabaleta was among the best right backs in Europe.
Manchester City were lucky to have him.