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Why West Ham “missing out” on Pablo Zabaleta would be a good thing

Aging defenders aren’t a solution to a long-term problem

Middlesbrough v Manchester City - The Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Final Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

West Ham United needs a right back. This is not news. Besides buying a striker that can play more than 19 games a season, right back has been a position of need for the Hammers for a few years now. The team got a great year out of Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson, but didn’t want to pay the transfer fee. Jenkinson came back the next year with a half-season loan, and finally the team went out and got Sam Byram from Leeds United last January to fill the position, only to see him then go down injured after less than a month. Byram was injured again this fall and missed a number of games again this season.

Last summer, West Ham went out an got an established veteran that was out of contract, former Liverpool player Alvaro Arbeloa, from Spanish giants Real Madrid. Arbeloa made a few token appearances, had one of the worst performances at right back that has ever been on display in the top division of English football against Arsenal, and hasn’t featured since. Slaven Bilic has been forced to play players out of position or use different formations to cover up the big gaping hole that is the right back position.

After months of rumors linking Manchester City legend Pablo Zabaleta with a summer move to West Ham United, a couple of weeks ago another rumor floated out that the team and the player had agreed on a contract to pay the player £80k a week to “solve” the right back problem at the club. In the past couple days, however, new rumors are popping up that claim that West Ham will “miss out” on Zabaleta, with the defender instead looking to extend his career at City and not move to London.

Oh, darn.

Besides the rumor mill spitting out Zabaleta, West Ham has been linked with Bacary Sagna and Stoke City fullback Glen Johnson, all of which were out of contract, over 30, and had their best years clearly behind them. These rumors make sense, because the board often makes questionable transfers, but from a footballing point of view, the rumors are rubbish. The Arbeola transfer has worked out poorly for both the player and the club, and every one of the fullbacks listed above would be an exact duplicate of that kind of policy, grabbing a “big name” after the bigger club was done with the player.

Pablo Zabaleta was a key part of many wins for Manchester City for a number of years, helping the team to Premier League titles, and has generally been a first-class player. But it’s important to note that Pep Guardiola, the City manager, has currently been using Jesus Navas, a winger, at the right back position over a fit Pablo Zabaleta as of late. And this with Sagna more-or-less taking the “starting” role from Zabaleta for the past couple of years. Zabaleta made only 13 league appearances, and only 22 overall, last season for the blue side of Manchester after appearing less than 35 times for the club in all competitions only once since joining the Citizens in 2008-09 from Espanyol.

Reaching into the bargain bin or the “very-well-used” section of the transfer marketplace is not becoming of a team that will receive over £90 million in television revenue and plays in a new “home” that was supposed to make these kinds of transfers a thing of the past. Sam Byram is young and may yet prove to be the right back of the future for the club. He may also never get past his injury issues. But rather than waste over £4 million in salary that could be used instead to, um, let’s see, oh yeah, pay Michail Antonio his money, it would be wise to find another Arthur Masuaku rather than another Arbeloa.