ADVENT CALENDAR – 5TH DECEMBER: PABLO ZABALETA

With Advent now under way and the countdown to Christmas now on, Typical City is looking at an incident, player or match specific to the club that corresponds with each date. In today’s edition, Richard Burns waxes lyrical about honorary Mancunian Pablo Zabaleta…

Manchester City fans love Pablo Zabaleta. With the quality of player that the club attracts now, they could fall love with anybody, but since the club hit the jackpot in 2008, very few players have felt the warmth and appreciation of the Etihad support in the way the Argentine right-back has.

Manchester City v Manchester United - FA Cup Semi Final

It’s not easy to fall in love with a footballer these days. They’re paid huge amounts of money and have access to a lifestyle that can create something of a disconnect between players and supporters, an issue exacerbated the higher up the football pyramid you look. Your favourite player will probably break your heart as soon as a better offer comes along and he puts in a transfer request, forcing you to rip off that ill-advised name and number from your replica shirt. He might not care too deeply about the ins-and-outs of your club, but as long as he does the business on the pitch, who really cares?

Zabaleta has always broken the mould in that regard. After he signed for Mark Hughes’ City side from Espanyol in 2008, just before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club, he quickly set about immersing himself in English and Mancunian life. It wasn’t uncommon for him and his girlfriend (now his wife) to visit their local chippy in Didsbury, though the defender did decry the lack of nutritional value of the traditional fish and chips.

During his time in Manchester, he has also taken it upon himself to attend City’s EDS games, lending his support to the club’s youngsters as they looked to make a name for themselves in the game. It must have been a huge boost for the kids to know that of the world’s best full-backs was stood in the stands cheering them on.

The most impressive thing is that Zabaleta has done all of this off his own back. He was never under obligation to attend youth games or to get to know his new home city. In fact, his desire to ingratiate himself into Mancunian life came at a time when Carlos Tevez, his compatriot, was banging on about how awful Manchester is, what with there only being two restaurants and that.

Of course, that’s all well-and-good, but City’s number five became a hero because of his on pitch contributions as much as anything else. He was a key part of the side that were crowned Champions of England for the first time in 44 years; he even scored the first goal in that famous game against QPR as the Blues snatched the title on the final day of the season.

His personal peak probably came in the 2012/13 season, when Roberto Mancini’s men meekly surrendered their title to Manchester United. His lung-busting performances were good enough to see him crowned City’s player of the year, as voted by supporters. His passion and energy were at odds with the insipid displays of his colleagues. His technical ability really came to the fore too as he established himself as the best right-back in the league, and arguably on the continent.

Though injuries are curtailing his season this time round, he remains an important member of the City squad. His personal trophy haul has been impressive as he has grown with the club. Whilst it’s true that he’s probably had his best season, there’s no reason that he can’t continue to help drive Manchester City to more trophies.

As the chant goes, “He is the f*ckin’ man”.

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Written by Richard Burns

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