Vincent Kompany has heaped praise on his Manchester City team-mate Pablo Zabaleta, who will leave the club at the end of the season.
City announced on Saturday evening that Zabaleta will depart the Etihad Stadium when his contract expires in July.
The Argentine is a firm fan favourite and will be given a special send-off by City before and after his final home game for the club, against West Brom on Tuesday.
Kompany spoke to the media following City's 2-1 victory over Leicester City on Saturday and was asked for his thoughts on his long-term defensive partner.
The two men have been together at City for the last nine years and the Belgian's admiration was so evident Goal has posted the full transcript for City fans and neutrals alike to enjoy.
How can you explain Zabaleta's contribution to this club?
VK: He did it today even in the couple of minutes that he played, he epitomises what the fans have loved about City for so many years even before our era. He’s tough, he gets into challenges where usually he has no right to win them but he gets out on the winning end. More than anything it’s his passion and his commitment to the club.
He’s an exceptional professional and someone who has been extremely reliable. After that you can talk about his qualities because people maybe don’t appreciate what he’s been able to offer going forward over the years. His timing of his runs, the reading of the game and I think he’ll always be remembered for all his cuts and bruises.
We used to play with 10 men for about five minutes per game at some stage because he’d need to go off for treatment! There’s no way I can predict what his future will be, I can only speak about the years we’ve shared together and he’s everything a City legend needs to represent.
Is there one particular injury that stands out?
Yes, but it’s a negative one. I remember him going off against Everton to get his stitches done or whatever, he went all the way back to the dressing room and in the meantime we conceded a goal. So when he got back out, I said next time we need to time this better!
The thing is that the games after that we took into consideration that it might happen again - if we’re down to 10 men just to manage it.
What's your happiest memory of him?
His first goal against QPR [in 2012] was massive for us. But whether he’s scoring at the end or at the beginning, he contributed in an equal way to us winning our games. Zaba will always be remembered for his tackles and I think that’s what he wants. His tackles, his headers and the timings of his runs - he has always been impeccable and been able to put himself into positions where he could affect the game, and although maybe his biggest quality was not to dribble past three or four men he got there and put the crosses in.
I’d add one more thing. His presence in big games - even when you’re losing - there’s always a few players you know are going to put in a good performance even when you don’t always get on the right end of it. And he was always one of them. If you need to go to war in the big games, you know you’ve got Zaba with you.
You need players like that...
That’s it. You need a guy like Kun [Aguero] to score the goals but sometimes [you need] a last-ditch challenge, which are things that often get forgotten quite easily, but team-mates and players like us we remember those and it’s a feeling that you have. And with him you have that feeling he could save the game.
Is that what City need in the future?
I think that is what we have mentioned in previous weeks. We have dominated a lot of games, we have a lot of possession and our performances were good but I reckon for the future we need to take some of that hardness, some of that passion, into whatever this team will be in the future - and it will be well past my time - so that has to remain at City.
That is what the fans will always want to see at City. So take a little bit of Zabaleta and add him to the talent we have and we will have a really, really good team.
You and Pablo were here before the takeover in 2008, does that give you a different perspective on the club?
Yeah, maybe. We came here when there were completely different targets. We were happy to win a big game every now and again! We were literally ‘old school’ - go with the lads, have a drink and that was it.
I can’t remember the last time that happened because the team has changed, the pressure has changed, the amount of games has changed but we’re still part of this generation… we played with Dunny [Richard Dunne] so that says everything!
You've had the challenge of adapting and proving you can play for a big club?
There’s always been talent at City even when it was a mid-table club. I reckon what we brought in – because we were young then – was a lot of hunger to go that extra step. And only players like this would survive at this club anyway because of the competition there’s been for so many years now. Even to just be here after so many years and with so many players coming in, it is not an easy job.
And Pablo, you know, did his last start against United and was playing against a young lad with a lot of speed [Anthony Martial] but he’s got so much experience that he knew to get in a challenge straight away and not make it obvious that he is lacking for pace against some players. It doesn’t matter when you have so much experience.