Back in May, West Ham signed 32-year-old Pablo Zabaleta on a free transfer from Manchester City.
Following the disaster of Alvaro Arbeloa’s stint in London last season in similar circumstances, it is understandable some fans are questioning what to expect from the Zabaleta capture. However, despite Zabaleta’s age, the Aregentine has the potential to be a seriously good acquisition.
With Premier League and international experience in abundance, the popular full-back is by no means ‘fi nishing up’ his career at London Stadium. Indeed, his 32 appearances last season for Man City across four competitions suggest he still has plenty to off er at Premier League level.
In order to get a better interpretation of what we can expect, I caught up with City fans Sam Kenney and Jake Rodger to share their views. ‘I’ve had a season ticket at City since 1996 and seen numerous players throughout the years’, Kenney said. ‘People say this lightly nowadays “oh I love this player, he’s my favourite” and it’s just a throw away comment. But genuinely for me, Zabaleta is my favourite ever City player.
‘He is basically a fan on the pitch! He plays exactly like you would if you could get a game: passion, commitment and always gives 100 per cent. ‘He didn’t score often but when he did you could see the passion on his face, he’d run away kissing the badge with every vein in his body ready to burst.’
You could tell from how Zabaleta’s departure from the Etihad unfolded just how popular he was at City. Not only did he receive a personalised shirt and a great send off from the staff and fans, he was also gifted a lifetime season ticket from the club. If you look at his history in Manchester, consisting of 333 appearances, you can certainly see why he received such a send off.
‘It may not be seen on the outside, but Zabaleta’s popularity with us is right up there on similar levels with Aguero,’ added Rodger. ‘To put it simply, I’d say he can go down as a legend. He was with us from the first day of our progression to a real European elite club and he was by no means a bystander.
‘Whenever he set foot on the pitch you would know, whether it’s West Brom in the cup or a Manchester derby, that man would put his head on the line and run for ninety minutes. The man bled blue blood, and I’m sure he’ll be just as committed at West Ham.’ It’s clear that Zabaleta’s work ethic and leadership is what makes him such a fan favourite.
Although it takes much more than that to have the ‘legend’ tag stamped on you, it requires moments of class and stepping up when it most matters. According to these boys, he’s more than reliable. ‘He scored away against Roma when I was there. It was late on and it sealed our place in the knockout stages of the Champions League. I’ve never see somebody look so passionate after scoring a goal. ‘He ran over to the City fans with all his might, kissing the badge and tearing up.’ Kenney recollected as his favourite Zabaleta memory.
‘He’s just an absolute legend all round’, he continued. ‘You couldn’t ask for a better player at your club. I’m pleased he’s gone to West Ham. ‘They’re a club that remind me of how City used to be: a good club, with a large fan base and 99 per cent of the fans are down to earth. ‘You’ll all soon see why we love him so much.’ It all began back in the summer of 2008, when he arrived for a fee of £6.45 million a day before the takeover led by multi-billionaire Sheikh Mansour.
He soon became a fan favourite due to his overwhelming passion, determination and hard-working attitude which contributed to City’s success since his arrival.
Over his nine year stay he played a pivotal role in Man City’s progression from mid-table to English champions, with his most notable moment being his opening goal in arguably the Premier League’s most famous fixture against QPR in which City became league champions for the first time. Within his time at City he collected six medals, winning every top domestic competition in England. West Ham fans would be delighted if he could win just one more during his time in England.