The Argentine will leave the club in July and, after nine years of first-class service, that should come as sad news for more than just City fans
So it has been confirmed that Pablo Zabaleta will leave Manchester City at the end of the season, news which will represent the end of an era for fans of the club.
The Argentine and honorary Manc will go down as a City legend, there is no doubt about that.
Having signed for City back in 2008, 24 hours before the Abu Dhabi takeover, Zabaleta has played as much a role as any of his team-mates, past or present, in turning the club into one of the biggest in the country.
Saturday marks five years since Sergio Aguero rattled home that 94th minute winner against Queens Park Rangers to hand City their first Premier League title in the most dramatic of circumstances, but it was Zabaleta who got the ball rolling that fateful afternoon.
Six minutes before half-time he put City on course to what looked like a routine victory, and had the game finished 1-0 it would’ve been enough of a fairytale in its own right, given the role he played in getting the Blues to those lofty heights.
While David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero have all made their decisive contributions since 2010, Zabaleta had been plugging away long before that, as part of a transitional squad including such varied talents as Richard Dunne and Robinho.
Would-be super clubs do not reach the top without investment in star players but they are not able to attract those star players in the first place without proving they have more to offer than just money.
Zabaleta, along with Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart, helped establish a core of committed and talented players that would make City an attractive prospect to some of the world’s best, most ambitious players.
Their passionate, fully committed displays quickly won over a fan base more appreciative of honest efforts than most, but they also had the ability to hint at the type of success that was, nearly a decade ago, still unthought of at the Etihad Stadium, and certainly would’ve been at Maine Road.
To put things in perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were champions of Europe when Zabaleta signed for City, and within five years he was a major part of the team that toppled them.
His off-the-pitch demeanour certainly helped make him a firm favourite, too. City supporters would later become used to their Argentine heroes keeping themselves to themselves and, shall we say, not lending too much importance to learning the local language.
Zabaleta, though, threw himself into Manchester life, eschewing the posh surroundings of Alderley Edge or Wilmslow in favour of Didsbury, a south Manchester suburb. He mixed with the locals so much that his perfect English has more than a Manc twang about it.
He is one of those footballers who gets it. As he once humbly said, “I try to do my best for the team, the club and the fans.” Those were not empty words; he meant it, and City fans knew that.
He became as close to ‘one of their own’ as it is possible for an Argentine to be. But he should be thought of as ‘one of our own’ for fans of English football in general.
Talented foreign footballers who give their best years to our game are, understandably, granted special status. Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, Patrick Vieira, Gianfranco Zola and Thierry Henry are all in the hall of fame, and not just because of their quality and medal hauls.
They have become part of the story of the game in this country and Zabaleta, now his exit has been confirmed, should be the first of many City players to join that club.
His trophy haul and longevity may not match Gary Neville’s, but Zabaleta can claim to be one of the finest right-backs of the Premier League era.
The peak years may now be behind him but his buccaneering runs down the flank, perfect positional sense and dogged determination made him the best right-back in the country for more than five years.
If City can replace him with somebody as good as he was at his best, then things will be much easier for Pep Guardiola next season.
Yet City fans feel aggrieved that the achievements of their players often get overlooked, and they have a point. They highlight the fact that David Silva has only once been named in the PFA Team of the Year, and that was in 2011-12. Aguero didn’t get in that one, or any others.
Zabaleta did at least make it in 2012-13, curiously when United won their most recent league title.
At least it hints that he will get the appreciation he deserves and, just maybe, Kompany, Silva, Toure and Aguero will follow in years to come.
Nobody at City will ever forget what Zabaleta did for their club, but it would be cruel if his contribution to the Premier League were to be overlooked. He is a legend by any measure.