Pablo Zabaleta may leave Man City this summer
Long-serving Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta has acknowledged he may leave the club this summer in what would represent the end of an era at the Etihad Stadium.
Zabaleta, 32, may decide to take on a new challenge after nine years with City, even if Pep Guardiola offers him a new deal into next season.
Zabaleta is among a handful of survivors from 2008, when Sheikh Mansour bought City and transformed them into a football superpower.
Zabaleta, who scored in the midweek FA Cup win against Huddersfield, is one of several players who will sit down with Guardiola towards the end of the campaign.
But the popular defender has made it clear he is going to look at all his options with financial stability from a longer-term deal and regular first-team football both taken into consideration.
‘I know my contract expires at the end of the season. I am 32, not getting any younger, so I need to make sure my decision is the correct one,’ he said ahead of Sunday’s visit to Sunderland.
‘I want to be honest with the club, myself and everyone. It I decide to stay, I will stay. If I will decide that it is time to move on, I will move on. Until then, I don’t want to talk too much about it because I am more focussed on the season and trying to win something.’
City’s other longest-serving players are also facing uncertain futures. Hart is currently on loan to Torino and unlikely to be at the club next season while Kompany has been dogged by injuries for the last two years.
Zabaleta is pushing towards his 350th appearance for City but has become frustrated at starting just 10 of their 25 Premier League matches under Guardiola despite being fit to play.
‘I am giving everything for the team as I have done for the last eight seasons.’ he said. ‘I said to Pep when we sat down at the start that I was coming off a season where I struggled with injuries and couldn’t reach top performance.
‘But after ankle surgery I have been available to play every single game this season, not injured at all, apart from that kick in Barcelona that needed stitches in my foot. No muscle problems, no ligament problems, I have felt fantastic.
‘As I said before, I am just playing with my heart to try and win something this season and at the end we will see what is happening.’
Guardiola is planning major changes at City before next season particularly in defence where he wants to recruit two world-class full-backs and a goalkeeper with Gael Clichy, Bakary Sagna and Willy Caballero all out of contract and unlikely to be re-signed. Tottenham’s Danny Rose has been touted as a possible target.
In the meantime, the current City team have responded to January’s 4-0 defeat at Everton in tremendous style, scoring 23 goals in their eight game since and showcasing why Guardiola is rated as the best attacking coach in the world.
They are in the FA Cup quarter-finals and will also reach that stage of the Champions League if they avoid a two-goal defeat in Monaco.
Zabaleta, who won Premier League titles under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, is not surprised that Guardiola has turned around scepticism about whether his methods would work in England.
‘Sometimes it takes time to adapt to a new style of play,’ he said. ‘When you are trying to play from the back you can mistakes, or when you press high and the back four is high, you can be a bit exposed.
‘We knew that from the first day working with Pep but this is the way we line up the team and we are not going to change.
‘At the moment we are in good shape. We are winning games and that builds confidence, we need to continue like that.’
Given the youthful flair on show from the likes of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, Zabaleta knows his role to put a foot in and give guidance is important.
‘We like to play attractive football but we also need to be focused on winning our duels, one-on-one situations, tackles. You know, you need that bit of aggressivity as well,’ he said.
‘If you can do that, as a team you look stronger. At the moment we look very dangerous going forward with Raheem and Sane in a great moment, Sergio Aguero looks very intense. We look a different team when everyone is fit.
‘The more experienced players are here to look after the young lads. They have been incredible. They need to keep their feet on the ground, keep working hard and other players will look after them.’
Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo received ironic cheers from City fans when he made a save against Huddersfield having failed so far to adequately replace Hart.
Bravo, a winner with Barcelona and Chile, is viewed by Guardiola as an important starting point for City attacks but has been let down by his poor saves-to-shots ratio.
He could lose his place again to Caballero having let a Huddersfield shot through his legs on Wednesday but Zabaleta is urging City fans to get behind their struggling ‘keeper rather than take the mickey.
‘We know goalkeeper is not an easy position but we need to support him, we know he is a great goalkeeper and his distribution with his feet has been fantastic.
‘He is one of the players of the team and I wish the Manchester City fans can give massive support to him. The players and manager are 100 per cent sure what Claudio is as a goalkeeper and that is the most important thing.’
England defender John Stones will come up against Sunderland manager David Moyes, who gave him his Premier League chance at Everton after signing him from Barnsley.
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