Pablo Zabaleta started in Thursday’s Manchester derby between Manchester City and Manchester United, and the tweets rolled in. If he’s good enough to start against Manchester United, the twittering class reasoned, he’s good enough to play for West Ham United. And they would be right. As of this moment, Zabaleta would likely be the best player that West Ham has had at right back since Lucas Neill. But signing a player for right now isn’t always the best for the long-term needs of the club.
West Ham has been consistently linked with a number of right backs since the end of the January transfer window. Both Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna of City and also Kevin Malcuit of St Etienne. We’ve detailed the links to each of these players multiple times. Malcuit played well against Manchester United in the limited sample of the two-legs of the St Etienne-Man United Europa League tie won by Man United. He’s a quick defender who can also play the midfield or in a wing-back role. With Chelsea dominating the league using three central defenders, and West Ham using that formation more than once this season, the Hammers could use another player that is flexible enough to play in different formations. Malcuit might not ever be as good as Zabaleta was, but he’s good enough now to be an upgrade over Sam Byram, especially defensively. While the chatter has died down, Malcuit apparently impressed Jose Mourinho enough to have him scouted.
Manchester United scouts are expected to monitor St Etienne full-back Kevin Malcuit after he impressed Jose Mourinho.— Tabet Sofiane (@boyswindler) March 1, 2017
While Pablo Zabaleta has made over 300 appearances for Manchester City, his body is starting to betray him. As we noted earlier this week, Zabaleta is not the same player as he once was, and the wear-and-tear of over 500 games played in three different leagues over the past 15 years has slowed him down and shown in his play this year. At 32 years old, he’s not getting any younger and he has a very limited number of years before he starts to decline even more. He’s a Manchester City legend, and if City allow him to walk, let another team buy the player that used to be great.
Signing an old player and expecting him to perform at a high level is madness, even if the deal is on a “free” transfer. Better to sign the younger player and watch him develop, and at the very least they need to force Byram to compete for his spot, as it seems to bring out the best in him. Remember, even if the transfer costs a bit more money, West Ham are expected to get over £90 million in revenue from the Premier League this year. The club can afford to spend £10 million of it on a right back that might play another five years at a high level for the club, rather than invest in diminishing returns from an older player than will only decline.