Top 10 Career Moments of Manchester City Defender Pablo Zabaleta
Argentina and Manchester City star Pablo Zabaleta has never been a man to hog the limelight. The defender prefers to burrow and hustle away on the right side of the pitch, supporting his team-mates and keeping the back-line steady without drawing too much attention to his own play.
That commitment to the team and giving his all in every game, however, is exactly what makes the 29-year-old Arrecifes native such an asset to any team he plays for. Whether at San Lorenzo, Espanyol, City or the national team, honours have never been far away from the right-back.
For a man that prefers to keep a low profile, there have been plenty of brilliant moments in Zabaleta's career to date. From the first days at San Lorenzo to an agonising World Cup final, here are the highlights so far for one of football's consummate professionals.
10. Off the Mark for the Citizens
Zabaleta has many great qualities as a professional footballer. But few would argue that his goalscoring ability is one of the defender's top attributes; just 24 goals in 488 senior appearances tells its own story for the Argentine star.
When he has the goal in front of him, however, Zabaleta does not wilt under the pressure. In January 2009 he smashed in his first for Manchester City, a goal to remember.
The right-back picked up a loose ball just outside the area and belted home a half-volley against Wigan, immediately endearing him to the club he had joined just five months previously.
9. The San Lorenzo Debut
Just under 12 years ago to this day, Pablo Zabaleta was preparing to make his first-ever appearance in professional football. He had rather more hair back then and was used further up the field than in 2014, but the talent and proficiency that has marked him throughout the defender's brilliant career were already on display.
Zabaleta was drafted into the first-team at San Lorenzo, the side he has always supported, at just 18 years old for a Copa Sudamericana clash against Venezuelan team Monagas. The youngster was part of a reserve team thrown into action to save the seniors' legs for the Primera Division, but responded magnificently to the challenge with a 5-1 win to ensure the Cuervo's progress.
8. Zabaleta Lifts FA Cup
Zabaleta's move to City in 2008 coincided with a sharp upturn in the club's fortunes. Accustomed to living in the shadow of neighbours Manchester United for so long, the Citizens made a statement of intent in winning the FA Cup title in 2010/11.
Having gone 35 years without a major trophy, Yaya Toure's goal in the final against Stoke City was a milestone for the Manchester club, who would finally break their drought in the league one year later.
Zabaleta featured as a substitute in the final, replacing compatriot Carlos Tevez. The pair celebrated together at the final whistle with the Argentina flag flying.
7. Copa Glory with Espanyol
Compared to their illustrious cousins in Barcelona, Espanyol's trophy record is rather underwhelming. Having never lifted the Liga title, four Copas del Rey make up the club's roll of honour, the last of which was obtained with a young Zabaleta driving Espanyol forward.
The Barcelona institution's excellent campaign in 2005/6 was capped with a emphatic victory in the final, disposing of Real Zaragoza 4-1.
Zabaleta played the full 90 minutes in defence and was a rock as Espanyol repeated their 2000 victory in the Copa. It showed that the Blaugrana were not the only team in the Catalan capital.
6. San Lorenzo Take the Sudamericana
Few moments in football are sweeter for a player than lifting continental silverware with their boyhood idols. For Zabaleta, that time came right at the start of his career when he was learning his trade with Buenos Aires giants San Lorenzo.
Traditionally mocked in Argentine football folklore for their inability to win the Copa Libertadores, the Cuervo at least managed to add a second South American medal to their trophy cabinet in 2002. Having won the Copa Mercosur the previous year, Zabaleta was now part of the squad that would fight for the inaugural Sudamericana title.
Just 18 years old, the youngster played once during the club's successful campaign, which culminated in a 4-0 aggregate victory over Colombia's Atletico Nacional in the final and a first medal for their prospect. It would not be the last.
5. A Gripping Premier League Triumph
Manchester City had to wait a long time for their third top flight title. After lifting the league championship trophy in 1967/68, 42 years passed before the Citizens had another chance at taking England's most valuable football prize.
For Zabaleta and the rest of his team-mates, victory against Queens Park Rangers would take the Premier League crown to the Etihad Stadium. The Argentine full-back got them off to the perfect start when he fired City into the lead before half-time.
QPR fought back, however, and at 2-1 down with minutes to spare, the title looked to be slipping away from the club's grasp. But a thrilling finish saw Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero rescue three points and end the long wait for domestic league honours.
4. World Youth Championship Glory
For a time in the mid-2000s, a stellar Argentina youth set-up masterminded by Jose Pekerman appeared to have a monopoly on the international stage. The 2005 World Youth Championship triumph will be remembered for the emergence of a teenage Lionel Messi on the world scene, but Zabaleta was also a key figure in that glorious campaign.
The full-back captained Argentina and started every game of that World Cup, and even finished as the team's second highest goalscorer behind Messi. Zabaleta's memorable 93rd minute winner against Brazil in the semi-final put the Albiceleste on the way to a brilliant triumph.
3. An Excellent World Cup Debut
Incredibly, for such a proficient defender, Zabaleta made his World Cup debut at the advanced age of 29. The star was overlooked by both Jose Pekerman and Diego Maradona, meaning that the 2014 edition in Brazil was the first chance for him to make a splash in the international tournament.
The right-back was certainly keen to make up for lost time. Zabaleta was an ever-present for Argentina as they made it all the way to the final, playing every single minute of their campaign and forming part of the World Cup's most watertight defences.
The journey would eventually end in disappointment thanks to Mario Goetze's late winner, but the defender and all of his team-mates were received as heroes in Argentina and their contribution to the team's trip to the World Cup final will be remembered for a long time.
2. A Second City Title
The Citizens' second Premier League title may not have been obtained in quite the same hectic fashion as the first, but it was still a moment to savour for the club's ever-loyal fans.
Liverpool's collapse in the final weeks of the season had put Zabaleta and his team-mates in pole position to lift their second championship in just three years.
Having played all but three of Manchester City's Premier League games across the season, the right-back was once more present as Manuel Pellegrini's men confirmed the title. A win against West Ham put City across the finishing line, adding another medal to Zabaleta's burgeoning trophy cabinet.
1. Olympic Games Gold
The last 28 years have been lean for an Argentina team accustomed to winning trophies on the highest level. Both World Cup final appearances in that time have ended in disappointment against Germany, while even the Copa America, traditionally the property of the Albiceleste, has returned to Buenos Aires on just one occasion, under Alfio Basile in 1993.
For that reason, back-to-back Olympic Games wins in 2004 and 2008 were celebrated with fervour back in Argentina. Zabaleta formed a key part of that latter triumph, playing in one of the best teams ever seen at that level.
The right-back was ever-present alongside the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, as Argentina won all of their six games with a record of 11 goals scored and only two conceded. The gold medal was secured thanks to a 3-0 thrashing of Brazil in the semi-final and a narrow 1-0 win over Nigeria in the decider, confirming the Albiceleste as world leaders at youth level.