Having been a Manchester City fan for the best part of 20 years I can somewhat look back with an almost ironic smile of how bleak the so called “dark” times really were as a City fan.
It’s almost amazing what I, and some of my fellow City fans would consider an utter disaster of a season these days….. Not winning a trophy? Failing to qualify for Champions League? Hell even reaching at least one semi-final is something we come to expect over these last 5 years. So it’s no wonder that the dark times now are a greater position to be in than, lets say, from when Peter Swales was in charge, or when we faced two seasons of relegation in the space of 3 years to find us in one of the worse positions in the clubs entire history!
No! These aren’t dark times anymore, but simply under performing seasons in a league that seems to be getting stronger and stronger.
However, being a fan of a club in such a position as Manchester City, with all the spending power we may have, and the world class players at our disposal, dark times may still exist, and today is one of those times.
As it seems after 9 years, 332 games (and counting), 11 goals, 2 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cups, and a FA Community Shield for good measure, on May 13th Manchester City officially released a statement on their official website indicating that Pablo Javier Zabaleta Girod would be leaving the club at the end of the 2016/2017 season.
We live in a time in football where players come and go, I’ve seen my fair share of “fan favourites” leave the club, De Jong, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Carlos Tevez, Richard Dunne, Joe Hart…. The list can go on, however these have been players that I’ve accepted that just don’t meet the criteria required for where we want to be, or how we want to play.
So why is Pablo Zabaleta any different? Why is it even though I saw this day coming it still feels like something has been stripped away that can’t be replaced? In a season where we have failed to win a single piece of silverware, and have been in the embarrassingly glorified “battle of the top 4” as SKY and BT so like to call it….. Why is it that loosing Zabaleta at the end of the season seems like the biggest let down of the season?
Don’t get me wrong Pablo Zabaleta has been a great service man to the club and will definitely go down as a legend, but he has by no means these last two years been able to produce the quality we have seen him conjure up in the past, so why can’t I treat this like any other scenario with former players like I mentioned?
When Gareth Barry and co. left City I knew that these players could be replaced with players just as good, if not even better, and I know this is the situation with Zabaleta as well, however there is one thing that will be really hard to find in another player, and that is Zabaleta’s undying passion and loyalty for the shirt and badge!
I recall one specific moment after we played Stoke City in the F.A Cup final, we then played them at The Etihad in the league the following week, Zabaleta was chasing a 50/50 ball in mid air and stuck his head on it, at the same time a Stoke player had raised his foot towards the ball. Now you see this many of times in the game, and 99% of the time however the player leaning in with their head tends to pull out of the battle, not Zabaleta, he took one in the face which lead to a broken nose, at this point we had made all 3 substitutes which lead to Zabaleta being told he couldn’t continue despite his pleading to continue, kicked the advertising boards in frustration and made his way down the tunnel to the club doctor. In a end of season interview Zabaleta talked about how many times he’s broken his nose and cut his head open, but in typical Zabaleta fashion made it out to be a situation to laugh about!
That passion and drive that has served Zabaleta to be recognised as one of the best full backs to have played in the Premier League these last 10 years, and that is something which makes him unique. He won’t be remembered by City fans for his honours won at the club, but for the pure dedication and loyalty he has provided, the blood and sweat that he has spilt for the club and fans over these last 9 years.
A player like Zabaleta proves that loyalty in the game still exists even today, and that despite all our fortune in the eyes of Manchester City fans it doesn’t matter how many trophies you win as a player at the club, because we hold a much bigger place in our hearts for the players who wear the shirt with pride and give it their all!
So the only thing we as City fans can do now is give Zabaleta the sending off he deserves, and wish him all the best wherever he goes!
Thanks for the memories Pablo Zabaleta, just like the song goes, you are the f*king man!!