Pablo Zabaleta has described his Manchester City farewell as a “special moment”.
The Argentine defender, who has played 333 games for City over a nine-year period, has decided to call time on his Blues career at the end of the season.
He played his last game at the Etihad as a City player on Tuesday in the 3-1 win over West Brom, and afterwards he was given the opportunity to say goodbye to the fans with a farewell speech and lap of appreciation.
“That was so special and so good,” he said afterwards.
“I have to say thank you to everyone who stayed after the game for that half an hour to share that special moment for me, to say goodbye in front of the fans.
“Very tough moments but they’re something that make me feel very proud.
“It has been nine wonderful years. Some of the lads here I have been playing with for so many years.
“That is why it was so special to see them after the game and enjoy that moment with them.”
Zabaleta joined City in 2008 from Espanyol, just days before the Club’s takeover by H.H. Sheikh Mansour.
Having initially being used as utility player by then manager Mark Hughes, Zabaleta went on to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s top full-backs.
He was a key part of the 2011 FA Cup winning side that ended City’s 35-year wait for major silverware, and since then he’s added two Premier League titles and two League Cups to his collection.
Zabaleta says he had to step up to the challenge and prove he was worthy of a place in a team that would soon be strengthened by some of the world’s top talent once the takeover was ratified.
“When I first came to Manchester, of course, it was a different era for the Club,” he said.
“A few days later everything changed. The new owners came in and from that moment I understood we needed to work hard to make the club better.
“It was really hard work over so many years.
“We cannot forget where we have come from – but today 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 of course the future is bright for this football club because the right people are here to carry it on.
“The challenge was to prove I wanted to be part of this football Club.
“We knew the Club could afford any player because the money was there.
“But it is also about commitment, loyalty, hard work, on and off the pitch, and especially on the field, which is the bit you enjoy the most.
“It has been a fantastic time. It’s something I’m very proud of. I have been part of the most successful period in Manchester City's history. I am so humbled by that.
“For me, I feel I have done enough and it is the right time to move on.”
During his post-match address to the fans, Zabaleta mentioned the 2011 FA Cup semi-final win over rivals Manchester United as one of the stand-out games in his City career.
For many City supporters, that was the day they began to believe the new era at the Club would bring significant success – and Zabaleta says it was the same for the players.
“That semi-final against Manchester United was a key moment for the club,” he said.
“Playing against them at Wembley. That stadium is so special. We beat them and then we won against Stoke.
“That was the first trophy after so many years.
“After that we kept working hard to try and keep improving.
“We need to be proud of where we are today as a club.
“We are competing against the best teams in Europe.
“We won the Premier League twice. We were very successful in the rest of the competitions.
“We are a big Club in this city now.”