Pablo Zabaleta will be handed a hero’s send off by Manchester City on Tuesday but there will be no fond farewell for Yaya Toure, who could yet be offered a new deal by the club.
Zabaleta’s departure after nine years was confirmed on Saturday evening after the fan favourite decided not to seek a new deal at the end of the campaign, and the club will mark his service, following the final home game of the season against West Brom, with video montages, tributes and a post-match presentation.
Toure enjoys similar status among the club’s supporters and would be afforded a matching show of respect should it be his last outing at the Etihad Stadium but that is not yet certain.
The 34-year-old Ivorian seemed certain to be on his way out when manager Pep Guardiola sidelined him at the start of the campaign but he has returned to a key role and could find he is asked to stay in Manchester for an eighth season.
Should that not transpire, or Toure accept a more lucrative deal elsewhere, senior figures at City have already considered the possibility of inviting him back next year to say goodbye to the fans.
Five other out-of-contract players – Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero and Tosin Adarabioyo – are also waiting to find out about their futures, though most are expected to join Zabaleta in leaving as Guardiola reshapes the squad.
The Spaniard may not have relied heavily on Zabaleta since arriving at City but he left no doubt about the esteem in which he holds the 32-year-old, who pre-dates the club’s 2008 takeover alongside Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart.
“Pablo is a real legend in what he has done in this club,” he said.
“He helped us with his team-mates, with the club, to make a step forward, to try to qualify for the Champions League, to win the Premier League, to be in Europe three or four times in a row when it was never in Europe for 30 years. That’s why Pablo Zabaleta is so, so important.”
Guardiola now faces the challenge of replacing a player whose leadership has been a defining influence behind the scenes whether he has been in the first XI or not.
“Yes it’s difficult,” he admitted. “To be like Pablo, first you have to be that personality and you have to be a long time here. It’s not about taking that player and he has the personality of Zabaleta. No, everyone has his own personality, the question is not to try to change the personality of the players.
“Of course, with the players who were a long time here, it’s so important because with Pablo it’s how he teaches the new generation and the people who are coming from behind.”
Guardiola is not expected to address the crowd after Tuesday’s game, leaving the stage to the departing defender, who signed for City from Espanyol the day before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover and witnessed the transformation of the club.
“When I first came to Manchester I felt like when I was in Barcelona at Espanyol; we were not the main club in the city,” Zabaleta said.
“We can’t say the same thing now. I remember at that time [Sir Alex] Ferguson and the ‘noisy neighbours’ and this is something that I have been since that time! For me, we couldn’t let people say something like that about us.
“I thought if they call us the noisy neighbours then let’s make more noise in the city, let’s prove that we are a club that is looking to achieve important things, maybe one day be the main club in the city and take this club forward to the next step to make this club better.”
City captain Kompany added his own heartfelt appraisal of his team-mate’s qualities, judging him a true fighter.
“He epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years, even before our era,” said the Belgian.
“If you need to go to war in big games you know you’ve got Zaba with you. In a big game there’s always a few players you know are going to put in a good performance and he was one of them.
“He’s tough, he gets into challenges he has no right to win and comes out on the winning end, but more than anything it’s his passion and commitment.
“He will always be remembered for his cuts and bruises as well. We used to play with 10 men for five minutes a game at one stage because he was always getting treatment!
“He’s everything a City legend represents.”