During nine years in Manchester, Zabaleta transformed from an average defender to a modern Premier League and City legend.
Big names like Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne steal the headlines, but it’s once-in-a-generation personalities like Zabaleta that steal the hearts of the fans.
Here are a few reasons why Zabaleta will be so sorely missed at City.
1 He loved a drink with fans
When he first moved to the North West nine years ago, Zabaleta and his girlfriend Christel Castano – now his wife – would frequent Didsbury pub The Barleycorn, to shoot some pool and immerse himself in the culture.
2 He’s an honorary Mancunian
Zabaleta’s countrymen Carlos Tevez and Angel di Maria may have struggled to acclimatise to the damp climes of Manchester, City’s great right-back absolutely loves the place. Not only did he brush up on the local dialect by listening to BBC Radio Manchester and watching Coronation Street, he once admitted that when he goes on holiday he misses the rain.
3 He hates Man United
During his emotional farewell at the Etihad on Tuesday night, Zabaleta was asked what his finest moment in a City shirt was. He ended up reeling off a few, but the first one he mentioned – that drew a huge cheer from the adoring City fans – was beating United in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. Surprising, considering Paul Scholes was sent off for a horrendous lunge on Zabaleta deep into the second half.
4 He scored a vital but forgotten goal
Remember when Sergio Aguero won the Premier League in the most exciting way possible? Yea, the time City beat QPR in the 94th minute to pip United to the title. Well Zabaleta bagged the opener on that day, putting City 1-0 against the west London club. Typically, he went absolutely nuts after rifling the opener past Paddy Kenny.
5 He’s a warrior
He wasn’t only a brilliant defender for City, but Pablo Zabaleta put his body on the line for the cause. A boot to the head, an elbow in the ear, Paul Scholes’s studs in the thigh; Zabaleta would take it on with a smile on his face if it meant his team won the ball.
6 He’s a great defender
In Roberto Mancini’s time at City, it wasn’t a stretch to say that Zabaleta was the best right-back in the Premier League. His stamina was second to none, he worked as an auxiliary attacker, and frightened attackers with his all-or-nothing approach to tackling.
7 He knows how it feels to be City
Zabaleta exemplified the spirit of Manchester City fans, on and off the pitch. Watch any interview with the Argentina full-back and he’s aware of the club’s history: he knows just how bad it was during the mid-to-late 1990s, he knows about legends like Bert Trautmann and Mike Summerbee, and he knows the fans’ hopes and fears because he’s spent more than his fair share of time with them. What a guy.
Whatever’s on the cards for Pablo Zabaleta next, fans of Manchester City and any club will be united in wishing a brilliant footballer – and an even better bloke – well in the future.