Belfast Telegraph

Departing Zabaleta proud of his part in City's rapid rise

By Andy Hampson

Pablo Zabaleta is proud of the club he is leaving behind as his time at Manchester City comes to an end.

The long-serving full-back bade an emotional farewell to the Etihad on Tuesday after featuring as a second-half substitute in a comfortable 3-1 win over West Brom.

The 32-year-old, who announced last weekend he would leave the club in the summer, now has just Sunday's trip to Watford remaining in a City career that has spanned the revolutionary Abu Dhabi era.

Zabaleta joined City the day before the 2008 Sheikh Mansour takeover that transformed the club. The Argentinian arrived at a mid-table outfit but has since helped City win two Premier League titles, three other cups and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

"It has been nine wonderful years," Zabaleta said. "We cannot forget where we have come from. We have to be very proud. I am so proud to see where Manchester City is today.

"It took so much work over so many years and the future is bright for this club because the right people are here to carry it on. For me, I feel I have done enough and it is the right time to move on.

"It has been a fantastic time. I have been part of the most successful period in City's history. I am so humbled by that."

Zabaleta was honoured with a number of tributes after the game, including the presentation of a lifetime City season ticket. He seemed touched by the send-off and could not hold back the tears as he addressed the crowd.

The on-pitch ceremony was planned and the scenes poignant, but City could not be accused of allowing the sentimentality to affect their performance.

On the field, they were highly efficient in sweeping the Baggies aside to move up to third and tighten their grip on a Champions League position.

Pep Guardiola's men now need only a point at Watford to secure a top-four place and even a defeat would only see them drop to fifth if Arsenal both beat Everton and engineer a six-goal swing.

City's goals came from Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure, with the outstanding Sergio Aguero having a hand in all three. West Brom grabbed a late consolation through Hal Robson-Kanu.

Zabaleta said: "It was a good performance by the team. We needed to win to get three points.

"We know there is still one game to go until the end of the season and we want to secure that third position.

"It is a moment to enjoy the last few days with the lads and hopefully we can celebrate at the end of the season with another win."

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