By Will Butcher
Reading boss Jaap Stam has emerged as a leading contender to replace Slaven Bilic at West Ham, according to a report.
The Mirror claims Stam, 44, has caught the eye of Hammers officials in his first full season in management, after guiding the Royals to fifth place in the Championship.
Former Manchester United, Lazio and Ajax defender Stam has just one year remaining on a two-season deal he signed in Berkshire last summer.
That could allow the Hammers to complete a cut-price deal for the Dutchman, as they would only have to pay compensation to Reading for one season.
Croat Bilic has struggled in his second season in charge at the London Stadium, watching from the dugout as his side fail to replicate the successes of 2015-16.
The east London outfit finished seventh place in the Premier League last season, losing just eight games. This time round, the Hammers have already lost 14 times with nine games left to play.
Five matches without a win and on a run of three consecutive losses, Bilic’s contract talks have been halted until the summer as he struggles to provide the Hammers with a top-half finish.
Co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan may decide to go down a different avenue, and it is believed that Stam is at the top of their shortlist should they decide to axe Bilic.
Football Insider verdict:
The Hammers have been leaky in defence this season. Conceding 52 league goals, Bilic’s side have the fourth worst defence in England’s top flight, while goals at the other end have been hard to come by. Stam’s Reading, meanwhile, have kept 14 clean sheets this season, after the Dutchman brought in the likes of Liam Moore, Tyler Blackett and Tiago Ilori to bolster his defence. Making his side difficult to beat, Reading currently sit fifth in the Championship and should not be overlooked when it comes to the playoffs in May, should they remain in the top six. In an impressive first season in management, Stam’s strong outlook on defensive football may not be the attractive style Hammers fans are looking for, but it would get them results.