Tears of unbridled joy, anguish, frustration and sadness – there’s something decidedly emotional about Manchester City and the 13th day of May.
First we had Sergio Aguero with 93 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock back in 2012, drilling home the most sensational climax to a Premier League season ever.
Never mind ‘Cry Me a River’, City’s delirious fans could have filled an ocean, weeping uncontrollably after Agueerrrrooo fired home the title winning goal against QPR.
One year later and they were lamenting the sacking of Roberto Mancini, the man who had made their team the Champions of England for the first time in 44 years, unceremoniously jettisoned as things turned sour between the volatile Italian manager and the club.
Fast forward to 2017, and those supporters are in veritable mourning at the sad, but inevitable, news that the man who epitomises everything that is good about the modern day Manchester City is leaving.
At 23:30 hours it became official – Pablo Zabaleta was saying adios to City after nine years, 332 appearances (hopefully with a couple still to come) and 12 goals to his name – oh, how all City fans would love their Number 5 to have made it a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ by the end of play next Sunday.
Contrary to that most haunting of ballads ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, the fans will be shedding bucket loads for their most favoured of Argentines, a man who is the focus of a more ‘lively’ song, where the lyrics have him affectionately as ‘the ‘Ckin Man’.
Has there ever been a City player more adored, admired – downright loved – by the fans for his gutsy performances, warrior instincts, never-say-die determination and bravery, a man who single handedly (or, to be more precise, single headedly) kept the British bandage business going through the economic downturn.
Symbolically he bleeds blue, but over the years we’ve seen the Zab man shed more than his fair share of the claret stuff in a sky blue shirt.
Arriving at City in August 2008, literally the day before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, Zaba was to prove a bargain £6.5m acquisition from Espanyol.
Credit to the much maligned Mark Hughes for bringing the relatively unknown Argentine to the then City of Manchester Stadium, it was a shrewd investment, one which delivered gargantuan returns.
What price two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cup wins and recognition by his adoring public as City’s Player of the Season in 2012/13?
Little did we know that when the much-hyped and heralded Robinho made his first appearance for City against Chelsea in September 2008 – the same match as Zaba’s debut – it would be the understated full back from South America who would live long in City’s hearts and not the flashy striker.
Robinho’s Brazilian genius was clear to see on the day as he scored a sensational free kick, whereas the Argentine with the exotic name had a torrid time in defence.
Nobody could have foreseen the emergence of Pablo Javier Zabaleta Girod, born in Buenos Aires 32 years ago, as a man who would infuse dreams into the hearts of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in sky blue.
Over the years it’s widely received wisdom that you should, ‘Always be yourself, unless you can be Pablo Zabaleta…then always be Pablo Zabaleta.’
As a City fan it’s nigh on impossible to argue with such sentiments.
It wasn’t just the fact that Zaba delivered on the field, that he was integral to the most successful chapter in Manchester City’s history, no, it was also about the man himself.
The fans love for him goes well beyond what he achieved in the shirt.
Unassuming, witty and totally down-to-earth, Pablo quickly mastered the mother tongue of his adopted home – complete with a subtle Mancunian twang – immersing himself in Manchester life, starting out in a flat in Didsbury and generally being an ordinary ‘Citizen’.
I know from personal experience how he is idolised – and rightly so – by a baby boy who was fighting for his life following major heart surgery a few years ago.
Zaba heard about the little lad’s plight and made a point of meeting him and becoming long lasting friends with the boy and his family.
Unless your name’s Marouane Fellaini, how can you not ‘love’ Zaba?
Fellow Argentine Willy Caballero, who himself may yet be leaving City at the end of the season, captured the mood perfectly earlier today in the run up to the vital clash with WBA.
The City keeper appealed to the fans via social media when he said: “First on Tuesday we need you because we have to win. Second is the great opportunity for everyone to say goodbye and wish the best to this f****** amazing player and great person.”
So, a 55,000 capacity Etihad crowd knows what is has to do…’DOO DOO DOO PABLO ZABALETA…’
By David Walker
Stating the obvious, dedicated to one of City’s Finest – Pablo Zabaleta – the pleasure and the privilege has been ours – GRACIAS!
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