Pablo Zabaleta says it will be “tough” to face Manchester City with another club – but it is a prospect he is now considering.
The Argentine full-back is weighing up offers from English, Spanish and Italian clubs after deciding to end his nine-year association with the Etihad outfit.
Zabaleta made an emotional farewell in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over West Brom, but will not announce his next step until after Sunday’s final Premier League game at Watford.
West Ham are favourites to sign the 32-year-old on a two-year deal and he says there would be “no” problem facing City next season.
“No. I think everyone understands I have enjoyed some of my best football at this football club (City),” he added.
“I would not be the first player to leave a club after so many years and then come back in a different shirt for another club. Of course I am not getting younger now. I will try to play a couple more years.
“Wherever I go I will try to do it with the same commitment and passion that I have done during my whole career.
“Of course, if one day I come back to play against City it would be tough but you have to accept it. I have a few offers from teams in the Premier League, some offers from abroad.
“I have got offers from different countries. But as I say, I will try to take the best one thinking for myself and my family. It will be tough not to play for this shirt any more but I think it is the right thing to do. It is time to move on.
“I have been in England for so many years, I am happy and I enjoy playing in the Premier League. I cannot decide here because there are still a few more days to enjoy as a Manchester City player.
“There is still one more game to go at the end of the season. We have to get a result against Watford to try and secure that third position for the Champions League spot next season then we will see what is happening.”
West Ham are confident of signing Pablo Zabaleta and will offer him a two-year deal with the option of a further 12 months. [ESPN FC] pic.twitter.com/bpcVj3WokP— City Watch (@City_Watch) May 18, 2017
Zabaleta had earlier thought he may finish his career in Argentina, but he said: “I am not not thinking of going back to Argentina as a player. I left Argentina when I was 20, I was very young.
“At that time I was thinking I would go back there and enjoy my last few years as a player there.
“But then everything changes in life. I met my wife. She is from Barcelona and is Spanish. That is why I spent three great years in that city with Espanyol], so I am thinking to play two more years in Europe and then go back to Barcelona.”
Even when he leaves, Zabaleta will still retain a fondness for City and is hoping they will lift the one trophy he could not help them win.
“The team, the players, the manager need to be in the Champions League, in the greatest competition in the world next season,” he said.
“I will enjoy watching Manchester City in the Champions League. Hopefully they can win it one day because that is the competition we are looking for and this club is trying to win.
“We have been very successful in domestic competitions over the last few years but Champions League is one of the biggest competitions for the club. I am sure the future is so bright and hopefully one day the club can achieve it.”
While Zabaleta’s future has been decided, there is still doubt about Yaya Toure, whose contract also ends next month and has yet to negotiate an extension.
Midfield team-mate Fernandinho has no doubt he still has much to offer at 34, highlighted by his fine goal against West Brom.
“He’s a top player. Of course I hope he stays,” said the Brazilian. “We want him in the side with us because he makes our life much easier. He’s shown his quality over the years he’s been here. He’s still a key player for us.
“It’s not his thing to let someone decide for him. Everyone has their own life, you have to decide by yourself. But, of course, if he asks me for advice I would tell him to stay – he’s a great player.”
Jose Mourinho insists Manchester United’s final fixture of the Premier League season should have been moved to Saturday to give them further time to prepare for next week’s Europa League final against Ajax.
He has revealed plans to field a weakened team on Sunday when they host Crystal Palace, three days before the showpiece that could earn him a second major trophy with United and secure qualification for the Champions League.
In Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at Southampton he again selected an understrength XI, omitting Marcus Rashford, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and David de Gea.
United will finish sixth regardless of the outcome of their match with Palace, who are also safe from relegation with three teams already down, and because of its insignificance is disappointed English football authorities have not intervened.
“In any country in the world the match would be Saturday, because Sunday we are sixth, doesn’t matter what, and Crystal Palace are safe,” said the Portuguese, 54.
“So after the moment Palace beat Hull and Hull are relegated, and Swansea is safe, in that moment the match has to be Saturday, in any country in the world it would be Saturday. (But) it’s going to be Sunday.
“It’s frustrating for me. I hope you don’t kill me when you see my team. I don’t lose time. When I know the battle is lost I don’t fight.
“The next match Joel (Pereira, United’s 20-year-old third-choice goalkeeper) is playing his first match in the Premier League.
“I’m here (in English football) already seven years, I never saw any detail of trying to care about the English teams involved in European competitions. I never saw. It’s just a lost battle, we have to accept the way it is.
“I hope the fans on Sunday support the team, they forgive some naivety, they forgive some lack of confidence and I hope Big Sam (Allardyce, Palace’s manager) shows he’s a good friend and he goes slow. Tells ( Wilfried) Zaha to go slow, leaves (Christian) Benteke at home. I hope he goes soft on us.”
Mourinho also reiterated his optimism De Gea would remain at the club, having earlier confirmed he would not play again this season, and amid increasing speculation linking the Spaniard with a transfer to Real Madrid.
José Mourinho making it publicly clear that Manchester United, along with himself want David De Gea to stay this summer. Time will tell.— manutd6th (@manutd53) May 17, 2017
“I don’t go with (Sergio Romero can replace De Gea) ‘if he leaves’ because I hope he doesn’t,” he said. “We need two top goalkeepers and a top young goalkeeper and this is what we have.”
Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger plans to review manager Claude Puel’s future at the season’s end, and after his team failed to score for the fourth home game in succession, sections of their supporters booed them off.
“Any team has a debrief at the end of the season and this is normal but the end of the season is after the last game,” said Puel, 55.
“It is important to keep the good focus about the pitch and we have the possibility to finish (eighth in) the table.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Sergio Romero displayed some eye-catching pre-Europa League final form by saving a penalty as Manchester United drew 0-0 at Southampton in their penultimate Premier League game on Wednesday.
United manager Jose Mourinho has confirmed Romero will start against Ajax in Stockholm next Wednesday and his early save from Manolo Gabbiadini helped the visitors stop the rot after successive losses to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Argentina international, deputising for the rested David de Gea, also produced a string of saves early in the second half at St Mary’s to keep Claude Puel’s Southampton at bay.
But the result had no material impact on United’s season, given they were already guaranteed to finish sixth, and Mourinho will have been concerned by injuries sustained by Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho is now guaranteed to finish his first United season with fewer league victories than either of his two maligned predecessors, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, mustered in the previous three seasons.
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