An emotional Pablo Zabaleta said goodbye to Manchester City on Tuesday night.
The Argentinian defender has spent nine years with the club and has seen it transformed into one of England’s best teams. He is the third-longest serving player at the club behind Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany.
Zabaleta’s contract expires at the end of the season. Last weekend, it was announced that his contract would not be renewed.
Manchester City’s season ends on Sunday away to Watford, so Tuesday’s game against Stoke City was the final chance for the home fans to say goodbye to a player that became their own.
‘Zab’ did not start the game, but came on on the hour mark in place of David Silva. He finished the game as captain once Vincent Kompany was substituted in the final 15 minutes.
Such was the party atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium, the defender was named man-of-the-match despite only play for 30 minutes.
After the match, Zabaleta was given a guard of honour off the pitch and a tribute was broadcast in the stadium with former players such as Mario Balotelli contributing. He was also presented with a lifetime season ticket by the club.
“When I first came to Manchester, I never thought it would be that long to be honest and it was a different era for the club”, he told Manchester City’s website.
“But the fact I have been here from day one is something that has made me very proud. It has been a wonderful nine years to be honest.”
Zabaleta’s departure marks the end of an era for the team. The defender was on of the last remaining players from an era where success was not expected, but simply hoped for.