COMMENT By Alex Stevens
A difficult 14 months for Sam Byram has just taken another decisive turn for the worse.
Byram’s hopes of establishing himself in the West Ham first team will have taken a significant blow by reports emerging from Italy that the club have all but sealed the signing of Manchester City icon Pablo Zabaleta.
Gazzetta dello Sport correspondent Nicolò Schira has taken to Twitter to claim that the Hammers are set to seal a deal for the right-back, 32, after doing the groundwork on the transfer.
A three-year contract is all but agreed, it is said, as Zabaleta prepares to head through the London Stadium entrance door when his City contract expires in the summer.
— Nicolò Schira (@NicoSchira) March 30, 2017
Thank goodness for that, will no doubt be the reaction of the majority of the West Ham faithful.
Such has been the club’s problems at right-back over the past two seasons that failure to adequately address the issue this summer will prompt further question marks of a recruitment operation that has not covered itself in glory in the last few windows.
Yet the increasingly likely arrival of Zabaleta, a veteran of 327 City appearances, does not spell good news for Byram.
Things have not gone entirely to plan for the 23-year-old since his £3.75million transfer from Leeds in the January window of last year.
Beset by niggling injury problems – a hamstring problem sidelined him for nearly three months of this season – he has been unable to string a sequence of first-team appearances together.
Sure, he started the Hammers’ last league fixture – a 3-2 home defeat to Leicester – but he has made just 15 appearances for the club this season and only six of those have been league starts.
This, don’t forget, at a club where midfield anchorman Cheikhou Kouyate and talismanic attacker Michail Antonio have had lengthy run-outs on the right side of the defence such is the paucity of options available to the manager.
Bilic clearly doesn’t regard Byram as the answer.
Salvation for the 23-year-old could and should come from boyhood club Leeds.
Athletic full-backs who are proven in the Championship and are capable of making the leap to the top flight don’t grow on trees.
Leeds academy product Byram knows the club inside out from his 143 appearances, has his best years ahead of him and there should be little resentment from his exit.
Luke Ayling has had an outstanding season at right-back, but will benefit from top-quality competition for his place next season, when the demands and expectations are likely to be considerably higher, especially if Leeds reach the holy grail of the Premier League in May.
A swoop for the versatile Byram, who can also slot in at right midfield and left-back, would be logical, although a loan move might be more realistic unless Leeds are swimming in Premier League TV riches in the summer.
It would revitalise Byram’s career and also provide him with regular football.
The deal could make sense for all parties.
In other Leeds transfer news, the club have sealed an out-of-window midfielder transfer.