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Pablo Zabaleta | A very noisy neighbour

"He epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years, even before our era" – Vincent Kompany News broke this week that Pablo Zabaleta will leave Manchester City at the end of the season. The 32 year old’s contract runs out in July, and the club have confirmed that the Argentine veteran will move on this summer. "Pablo has informed the club he will move to pastures new, but leave behind many happy memories,” an official club statement read. "Fans will have the opportunity to show their appreciation for one of the club's most loyal and loved servants of recent times against West Brom on Tuesday evening, which will be Pablo's last home appearance." West Ham have been linked with a move for the experienced right back – who has also been deployed in a holding midfield role by Pep Guardiola this season – but the Premier League could be about to lose one of its finest ever right backs. Zabaleta is Man City’s third longest-serving player behind Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany, and has made over 200 league appearances since joining City from Espanyol in 2008. He arrived in Manchester shortly before City were bought by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group, and he will leave the club with two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups. Many talented players came and went in the early years of City’s new found wealth, but Zabaleta remained an ever present in the side. The warrior like defender is a cult hero at the Etihad, and is adored by City fans for his tenacious tackling and intelligence on the ball, and his contributions in both halves of the pitch. Zabaleta also immersed himself in Manchester culture. He made it a priority to learn English, and described himself proudly as “half Argentinian, half Mancunian” after making his 200th league appearance for the club last year. He has been always been an attacking threat with his marauding runs, and he has scored 11 goals for the club, including the first in City’s dramatic 3-2 victory over QPR on the last day of the 2011/12 season which sealed the Premier League title on the last day of the season. He was also used as a man marker (often at left back) under Roberto Mancini in big games, and generally carried out the thankless role to great effect. Most of all, Zabaleta is a winner through and through. He was passionate about Manchester City, and was riled up by Alex Ferguson's insults about City merely being Man United's "noisy neighbours". “When I first came to ­Manchester I felt like when I was in Barcelona at Espanyol – we were not the main club in the city," the 32 year old said yesterday. “We cannot say the same thing now. "I remember at that time Sir Alex Ferguson talking about the ‘noisy neighbours’. For me, we couldn’t let people say something like that about us. “I thought: 'If they call us the noisy neighbours, then let’s make more noise in the city. Let’s prove that we are a club that is looking to achieve ­important things, maybe one day be the main club in the city and take this club forward.'” Given that City have finished above United in five of the last six seasons, the full back has been somewhat successful. It is that passion which has endeared the adopted Mancunian to the City fans since his arrival to the North West. Fans and pundits alike have also admired his bravery, commitment, athleticism and attacking play since his appearance in England’s top flight, and the 32 year old was comfortably the best right back in the league for three or four seasons in his prime. He should be regarded as City's best full back in the Premier League era. City skipper Vincent Kompany summed up his courageous teammate perfectly this week. "He epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years, even before our era," he said. "If you need to go to war in big games you know you've got Zaba with you. In a big game there's always a few players you know are going to put in a good performance and he was one of them. "He's tough, he gets into challenges he has no right to win and comes out on the winning end, but more than anything it's his passion and commitment. "He will always be remembered for his cuts and bruises as well. We used to play with 10 men for five minutes a game at one stage because he was always getting treatment! "He's everything a City legend represents." Zabaleta's time at Manchester City may have come to an end, but he deservedly leaves the club as a cult hero.
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