Zabaleta departs as City's ultimate warrior

Alam Khan - Reporter 01:35 15/05/2017
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  • 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.”

    “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.”

    “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.

    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.”