With Pablo Zabaleta announcing he’s leaving City this summer, James Piercy and Alam Khan debate whether the veteran Ivorian midfielder should follow his fellow club stalwart out of the door or earn a new deal at the club.
With Pablo Zabaleta leaving Manchester City after nine years, it would be a mistake to lose another icon.
It’s true Toure may not be the midfielder he was, forging forward with finesse and fire, but he still has much to contribute, much to teach.
City have more pressing transfer priorities this summer, namely in defence, and with Ilkay Gundogan needing time to rec-over from his serious knee injury, Toure would provide trusted cover. He knows Pep Guardiola, his system and City.
I recall when Patrick Vieira joined in 2010 at the same time. At 34, in his final season, he was slower, but a calming influence when used by his old Inter boss Roberto Mancini. Vieira provided experience, expertise and a winning mentality that City needed at that time. That’s Toure now and why he should be equally respected and revered a la Vieira.
Ironically, the Frenchman’s farewell – six years ago yesterday – saw Toure score against Stoke to lift the FA Cup – ending a 35-year wait for a major trophy and sparking City’s rise.
Just like Vieira, Andrea Pirlo or Michael Carrick over at United, age doesn’t matter when brains can make up for tiring limbs in terms of doing the basics brilliantly, of knowing when to play the right pass or make the right tackle or take the right shot.
Toure can still control games, and that’s what Guardiola has seen since restoring him to the line-up in November.
It is difficult to find complaint with his attitude either. An effervescent character, through his enthusiastic displays and encouragement to the younger talent, Toure has become the ‘daddy’ of this team. Letting Gabriel Jesus take the penalty in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Leicester, when he was designated, was a sign of his maturity.
Having just turned 34, he doesn’t need cake to appease him, but recognition of his value.
And whatever agent, Dimitri Seluk, might say about better financial options elsewhere, this should not be about money for Toure, but his legacy at City.
For all the influence and experience Yaya Toure brings to the City dressing room, as a footballer, his lack of suitability to the style Pep Guardiola wants to implement will only become increasingly more apparent.
The Ivorian deserves credit for the way he has applied himself in the second half of the season, albeit without delivering too many grandstand displays, just keeping it nice and simple. But Guardiola needs his central midfielders to either be controlled in possession or dynamic and able to get up and down the field, pressing, harrying and recovering the ball.
Toure hasn’t been such a midfielder, in a defensive sense, for a long time and his legs and body simply can’t summon the energy required to fulfil such a task across a 45+ match season.
Ilkay Gundogan’s injury has afforded him more gametime than perhaps Guardiola envisaged at the start of the season but he is nowhere near the same level of distributor as the German. Similarly, Fernandinho’s disciplinary issues and need to fill in at full-back meant Yaya was only in direct competition with the Brazilian, who possesses a superior work rate, for a limited time.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, Yaya became a luxury player, rarely checking runners, barely pressing and offering occasional protection for his defence. He’s improved marginally, but still not at a level of consistency, with Guardiola not starting him against Monaco in the Champions League second leg, Arsenal and Liverpool telling.
All with the nagging feeling that he’s merely obliging to ensure a new contract and may return to old ways. He’s doing that because clearly not too many clubs out there are willing to pay a 34-year-old £220,000-a-week, and neither should City for a glorified squad player.
Yaya’s place in club history is assured; bar the ludicrous influence of Dimitri Seluk he’s helped shape the club in the Abu Dhabi era. But there are plenty of midfielders; younger, fitter and significantly cheaper who can take the club forward under Guardiola.
Vincent Kompany says Manchester City will need the departing Pablo Zabaleta’s commitment and courage if they are to achieve more success in the future.
After a substitute appearance in Saturday’s 2-1 Premier League win over Leicester City, Zabaleta is set for an emotional farewell in Tuesday’s final home game against West Brom after confirming he will leave when his contract ends next month.
Kompany, who joined City with the 32-year-old full-back nine years ago just before Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s landmark takeover, hailed him a legend, warrior and example for other players to follow.
“Even in the couple of minutes that he played [against Leicester], he epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years even before our era,” said the Belgian captain.
“He’s tough, he gets into challenges where usually he has no right to win them, but he gets out on the winning end.”
“More than anything it’s his passion and his commitment to the club. He’s an exceptional professional and someone who has been extremely reliable.”
“After that you can talk about his qualities because people maybe don’t appreciate what he’s been able to offer going forward over the years. His timings of his runs, the reading of the game and I think he’ll always be remembered for all his cuts and bruises.”
“We used to play with 10 men for about five minutes per game at some stage because he’d need to go off for treatment.”
Pablo Zabaleta's Man City career by numbers:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 14, 2017
2 Premier League titles
2 League cups
1 FA Cup
Club legend. 🔵🏆🔵 https://t.co/2tOEtvx21P
“I remember him going off against Everton to get his stitches done or whatever and he went all the way back to the dressing room and in the meantime we conceded a goal. So when he got back out, I said next time we need to time this better.”
“Zaba will always be remembered for his tackles and I think that’s what he wants. I’d add one more thing. His presence in big games, even when you’re losing, there’s always a few players you know are going to put in a good performance even when you don’t always get on the right end of it – and he was always one of them.”
“If you need to go to war in the big games, you know you’ve got Zaba with you. I’ve mentioned [this season] that we have dominated a lot of games, we have a lot of possession and our performances were good, but I reckon for the future we need to take some of that hardness, some of that passion, into whatever this team will be in the future – and it will be well past my time – so that has to remain at City.”
“That is what the fans will always want to see at City. So take a little bit of Zabaleta and add him to the talent we have and we will have a really, really good team.”
News of Zabaleta’s departure coincided with the fifth anniversary of City’s landmark first Premier League title in 2012 when he actually scored the opener in a 3-2 win mostly remembered for Sergio Aguero’s dramatic injury-time winner.
It’s an unforgettable memory for Kompany too as he added: “It was massive for us. But whether he’s scoring at the end or at the beginning, he contributed in an equal way to us winning our games.”
“You need a guy like Kun [Aguero] to score the goals, but sometimes a last-ditch challenge, things that often get forgotten quite easily but team-mates and players like us we remember those, and it’s a feeling that you have. And with him you have that feeling he could save the game.”
“And Pablo, you know, did his last start v United and was playing against a young lad with a lot of speed [Anthony Martial], but he’s got so much experience that he knew it get in a challenge straight away and not make it obvious that he is lacking for pace against some players. It doesn’t matter when you have so much experience.”
A todos nuestros seguidores: primero el martes los necesitamos porque hay que ganar como sea y segundo es la gran oportunidad para todos para despedir y desear lo mejor a este pedazo de jugador y gran persona. To all our followers: first on Tuesday we need you because we have to win as it is and second is the great opportunity for everyone to say goodbye and wish the best to this f***** amazing player and great person. #iamblue #zabaisblue #allthebestzaba
“There’s no way I can predict what his future will be, I can only speak about the years we’ve shared together and he’s everything a City legend needs to represent.”
The pair, and City, have come a long way since 2008, with the backing from Abu Dhabi pivotal to their rise as one of Europe’s leading clubs and five major trophies.
Big names, heroes, have come and gone. Even this season, keeper Joe Hart – the only other survivor from the 2008 campaign – has been sent on loan to Torino and set to be sold in the summer, along with Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala.
Of the current squad, Bacary Sagna is also set to leave for free and the futures of other out-of-contract players, Yaya Toure, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy and Willy Caballero, are still to be decided by boss Pep Guardiola.
As Kompany recalls: “We came here when there were completely different targets.”
“We were happy to win a big game every now and again and we were literally ‘old school’, go with the lads, have a drink and that was it.”
“I can’t remember the last time that happened because the team has changed, the pressure has changed, the amount of games has changed but we’re still part of this generation that … we played with Dunny [Richard Dunne] so that says everything!”
“There’s always been talent at City even when it was a mid-table club.I reckon what we brought in – because we were young then – was a lot of hunger to go that extra step. And only players like this would survive at this club anyway because of the competition there’s been for so many years now at the club. Even to just be here after so many years and with so many players coming in, it is not an easy job.”
With Zabaleta and Hart on the way out, Kompany will become the club’s longest-serving player.
Gutted can't be there Tues,I don't think,I know that @pablo_zabaleta will get THE best send off from the best fans in the land & the world 💙— Paul Dickov (@OfficialPDickov) May 13, 2017
After all his injury problems, a sixth successive start and solid display in the win over Leicester offered renewed hope about his future, trophy ambitions, and that he may see out his career at the club rather than heading for the exit door like others.
But he joked: “I’ve had to think way too many times about the end of my career recently, unfortunately.”
“You know what, I’m really taking it game by game. I’m enjoying it and my thing is simple: when the young lads start running past me in training I will know it is time. And that is not happening at the moment so I’m still aiming for the highest achievable things.”
“It is a World Cup season next season so I’m planning to be ambitious. And there is plenty to feel good about when I play. So if I go back to being a normal [injury-free] centre half which I’ve not been for a long time, then 31 is a pretty good age. I want to approach it that way.”
Tottenham were determined to give White Hart Lane a memorable send-off, and with Manchester United in town for the stadium’s finale, it was fitting that the Lane had a grand occasion to mark its farewell.
Victor Wanyama opened the scoring early in the first half, and at that moment it seemed like momentum would carry Spurs to a rout. However, they wasted a few chances, and even after Harry Kane scored in the second half, Wayne Rooney’s goal meant that Spurs had to endure a few nervy moments before bidding farewell to their stadium with a 2-1 win.
Here are seven deadly stats from the last-ever game at White Hart Lane.
ANOTHER QUICK START
Spurs have made a habit of scoring in the first half, and Sunday was no different.
Victor Wanyama’s goal from a corner-kick meant Spurs got the flying start they would have wanted in this game, and put United under pressure to chase the game from the outset.
Indeed, the bigger question was why the first half ended 1-0.
23 - Spurs have scored 23 goals in the first half of home league games this season; no other PL team has scored more. Alert.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 14, 2017
KANE GETS ANOTHER FIRST
Remarkably, Harry Kane had never scored against Manchester United going into this game.
Given his status as a big-game player, his record against United was a rare blemish for a player with goals against every other team which will finish in this season’s top six.
The Spurs man set the record straight by scoring the goal that ended up being the winner, as well as the final Spurs goal at White Hart Lane.
Harry Kane has scored against 24 of the 25 clubs he has faced with Tottenham in the Premier League.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 14, 2017
His first vs. Man Utd. ✅ pic.twitter.com/XNh6VIukPo
NORTH LONDON DUO SHARING ASSISTS CROWN
The North London derby was boiled down to one matchup: Mesut Ozil vs Christian Eriksen.
Ozil is the more feted player (although he also receives much sharper criticism), but the numbers suggest that there’s absolutely nothing to separate the two.
Does Eriksen’s work rate off the ball make the Spurs man the more valuable player?
Most assists in the Premier League since the start of 2015/16:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 14, 2017
Christian Eriksen (26) 🔵⚪️
Mesut Ozil (26) 🔴⚪️
North London double. pic.twitter.com/mN6cjNzt59
ERIKSEN-KANE COMBO STRIKES AGAIN
9 - Christian Eriksen has provided nine PL assists for Harry Kane since August 2015; no player has provided more for a teammate. Telepathy. pic.twitter.com/NRz0kU63d5— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 14, 2017
Of course, Eriksen has had the benefit of playing with a truly world-class striker. (Ozil has Alexis Sanchez, but Sanchez has only begun playing as a striker this season.)
The final Spurs goal at White Hart Lane was the result of what has become a classic combination. Eriksen floated in a free-kick, and Kane did the rest.
Perhaps next year there can be a competition between Eriksen, Kane, and Dele Alli as to which pair among the three is the deadliest.
POCH’S HIGH-FLYING SPURS
Mauricio Pochettino has gotten a lot of credit for how Spurs have strengthened in defence and have become a more energetic pressing team, but he’s equally responsible for what the team have achieved at the other end.
Under the Argentine, Spurs have become lethal in attack.
Of course, it helps having players like Kane, Eriksen, Alli, and Hyun-Min Son leading the way.
Tottenham have now scored 200 goals in 112 PL games under Mauricio Pochettino— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) May 14, 2017
Son 16 pic.twitter.com/K40c90GYnB
UNITED BREAK AWAY DUCK
Going into this game, United’s record in away games against the rest of the top six this season read: five played, no wins, no goals.
They couldn’t find a first victory, but thanks to Rooney they at least finally scored a goal.
In fact, Rooney’s goal briefly threatened a revival, as it seemed United might rain on Spurs’ parade by nicking what would have been a scarcely-deserved draw – although for United, a comeback at White Hart Lane would have been fitting.
Wayne Rooney has scored Man Utd’s first goal away from home against a top-six side in the Premier League this season. pic.twitter.com/sJMW1fIiNU— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 14, 2017
SPURS MAKE HISTORY
What a perfect way to end their tenure at White Hart Lane.
Not just Sunday’s win, but the season as a whole. Although there was to be no trophy this season, despite their best efforts, they achieved something they hadn’t done in 52 seasons – an unbeaten league season.
Given that this was the first time they’d achieved the feat in the Premier League, it was a fitting farewell.
19 - Spurs have gone unbeaten at home for the first time in a league season since 1964/65 (W17 D2 L0 this season). Swansong. pic.twitter.com/yEd1jSFSzO— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 14, 2017