Bacary Sagna: The Man Who Took Zabaleta’s Mantle

It’s not been easy for Bacary Sagna. The seven years he enjoyed at Arsenal were stellar and he was probably their most reliable performer during that period yet he was booed on his return to the Emirates. It’s hard to understand why; particularly when you consider that this was the same fan base that gave Cesc Fabregas a standing ovation. Having run down his contract and refused a late extension he felt didn’t value him, Sagna joined Manchester City on a free, seemingly another player swapping regular playtime to warm Pablo Zabaleta’s place on the bench. And the plot went as thus with playtime hard to come by in his debut season. He couldn’t impress – who could in blighted appearances? – yet he became Pellegrini’s go-to-man in big games where his defensive prowess was preferred to a Zabaleta whose form was starting to tail off.

Along came the summer and many supporters who hadn’t taken to him or his spontaneous selections over sweetheart Pablo Zabaleta wanted him sold; made way for a player from the academy in classic knee-jerk fan form. Sagna could’ve easily picked up the rest of his pay on his contract and headed back to France or to the far East/West, but he saw an opportunity to cement himself as Manchester City’s first choice right-back. Pablo Zabaleta was after all at Copa America, in the high altitudes of Chile playing what felt like his 600th game in the past four years.

Rocking his new hair-do, he started the first six games of the season with Zabaleta out in superb form, solidifying a defence that kept six consecutive clean sheets and allowing Kolarov to roam freely on the opposite flank. He was classic Sagna; rock solid, calm and always in the right position. As other team-mates started to dither away due to injury or poor form, he stood tall and held firm til Pablo’s return in October.

The man who had learned the art of defending from Lillian Thuram himself was starting to win everybody over. He was fantastic, a brick wall who pulverised so many opposition wingers. Such was his impact that Zabaleta’s injury so soon after returning was only met with a slight sigh. He had turned everyone around like I knew he would. I beamed, with a massive ‘I told you so’ smirk to everyone who had doubted him last season.

At the ripe age of 33, Bacary Sagna has played in 30 of City’s 35 Premier League and Champions League games this season, including more minutes in the league that every outfielder bar Fernandinho. In an all-action role that demands so much, Sagna has excelled, regularly buccaneering up and down the pitch. His exquisite ball to find Raheem Sterling for his first City goal against Watford or his pearler to set-up Aguero in the reverse fixture are indicative of what a complete full-back he is. As Arsenal try and find suitors for Sagna’s offloaded, supposed replacement Mathieu Debuchy, Bacs has carried an underwhelming Manchester City defence towards another title challenge. He has been City’s best defender by a mile and possibly among their top three performers this season. He has done so well that he may even out-last the Premier League’s greatest ever right-back.

And that is no exaggeration. It isn’t absurd to suggest that when all is said and done, Bacary Sagna will be discussed alongside Zabaleta in among the greatest Premier League sides of all time. His influence has been resounding, he has become that go-to guy Pablo once was with a challenge to roar up a crowd or a timely interception to prevent a goal. And just like Zabaleta did for many years, Sagna has played a ridiculous amount of games with his deputy injured, filling in everywhere and anywhere. He featured at left-back in the win against Bournmouth and at center-back in the FA Cup against Aston Villa, playing with vigour and composure consistent of his years. Such are their similarities, that it would’ve only made made sense for Zabaleta to pass his mantle onto him.

He is his true successor in every sense. His warming grin, his utterly brilliant physique (no-one looks better in a modern football kit) and the fact that he is probably the only footballer with a clean fashion sense. There’s just so much to adore about Sagna. If there ever was one player to make Pablo Zabaleta’s impending departure just that little less painful, then it would certainly be him.

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