He’s like Monty Python’s famous Black Knight.
You can cut his arms off. You can cut his legs off. But he will fight on and continue to rage ‘You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to you!’
After 9 fabulous years at City, the fire still burns so brightly in the mind and the heart of our legendary and often bloodied warrior Pablo Zabaleta.
“In early 2011, Zabaleta was faced with a horrid decision. He was given compassionate leave by the club to head back to his native Argentina, after learning that his father, Jorge, had been left critically ill in hospital after a car crash. With Richards and Jerome Boateng lost to injury, it meant the club had no recognised right-back for the FA Cup semi-final tie with Manchester United. Zabaleta chose to return for the Manchester derby at Wembley, despite his father remaining unconscious. He later said he’d asked himself what advice his dad would have given him – and it transpired Zabaleta senior would watch the game from his hospital bed.”
Zaba has certainly made a deep impression on City fans.
Poems have been written about him, like this one by Kay Roberts and he’s even generated his own memes like this:
Some City fans may not remember that Zabaleta had a pretty inauspicious beginning at Eastlands.
He was brought in by Mark Hughes in 2008 but at first failed to impress or hold down a regular starting position. He was initially viewed as a bit of a hothead who gave away unnecessary free kicks and had a tendency to go sliding in much like last season’s version of Nicolas Otamendi.
Moved around the team from defensive midfield through to both full back positions, it wasn’t until the arrival of Roberto Mancini that Zaba got a regular run in the team in 2011 that was crucial in ensuring Champions League qualification.
Richards again proved difficult to unseat in the title winning season of 2011-2012 but the tough Argentinian came into his own in the latter stages of the campaign, taking full advantage of injuries to the young Englishman.
He it was of course, who scored the first goal in the nerve-shredding finale against QPR and in the following season he became widely recognised as the best right back in the division and possibly also in Europe.
Zabaleta really formed a bond with City supporters not only with his full-blooded performances but also by his choice to live in Didsbury rather than the out-of-town millionaire villages favoured by most Premier League stars. He had quickly become fluent in English with some characteristic Mancunian flourishes and was not too precious to mix and make friends with locals and neighbours.
He continued to keep out Richards after Mancini’s departure and quickly won the confidence of new boss Manuel Pellegrini, playing a pivotal role in the Chilean’s first season title win and forming a habit of scoring vital goals.
Despite City’s disappointing season in 2014-2015, Zabaleta was nonetheless often in the running for man-of-the-match awards and it was perhaps this season that saw him at the peak of his powers.
Season 2015-2016 was blighted by injuries and upon the appointment of Guardiola, rumours began to surface that he would not figure in Pep’s plans.
And so it has proved.
The Catalan has used Fernandinho and latterly Jesus Navas in Zaba’s role even when he has been fit and this is undoubtedly the reason for his decision not to push for a new deal and to move on to pastures new.
It’s not yet time to Roll Over Lay Down for this Status Quo loving gladiator and it appears he has been offered a very attractive 2-year deal by Hammers boss Slaven Bilic. He’d be crazy not to take it. Here’s hoping Zaba gets the Indian Summer he richly deserves. Buena suerte, amigo! Check out the best of Pablo Zabaleta here:
Zaba in numbers
Name: Pablo Javier Zabaleta Girod
DOB: 16 January 1985, Arrecifes, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Moved to Manchester City FC on a 5 year contract from Espanyol for 6.5m in 2008, 1 day before the announcement of the Abu Dhabi takeover and after rejecting an offer from Juventus.
Debut: 13 September 2008 in 1-3 defeat to Chelsea. Has been at City for 9 years. 332 appearances to date. Out of contract on July 1st. Tuesday’s game at West Brom will be his last home game.
1st goal for City: 17 January 2009 in a 1–0 league win over Wigan. Played 100th game for City in all competitions on 1 January 2011. Agreed a new 3-year contract in July 2011. Was an unused substitute in the 1–6 win over Manchester United. Sent off in the 2013 FA Cup Final against Wigan Athletic for a 2nd yellow card. 3rd player ever to be sent off in an FA Cup final. Reached 200 appearances for Manchester City on 17 January 2016.
Honours: San Lorenzo de Almagro: Copa Sudamericana: 2002. Espanyol: Copa del Rey: 2005–06. Manchester City: Premier League: 2011–12, 2013–14. FA Cup: 2010–11. Football League Cup: 2013–14, 2015–16. FA Community Shield: 2012. Argentina: FIFA World Youth Championship: Winner 2005. Olympic Gold Medal: 2008. Individual: Thomas Cook Player of the Month: January 2009. Premier League PFA Team of the Year: 2012–13. Etihad Player of the Month: December 2012, January 2013. Etihad Player of the Year: 2012–13