Fabian Balbuena may already have played his final game for West Ham after David Moyes spoke of the defender in the same breath as Sebastien Haller.
While discussing the benefits of having a small squad following Monday’s 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, via quotes shared by football.london, Moyes praised the impact that Balbuena and Haller both had on West Ham’s season.
The use of past tense from the Irons boss suggests he has already drawn a line under Balbuena’s time at the London Stadium, having not called on the Paraguayan to feature in the Premier League since December.
“Sometimes not having too big a squad makes a difference,” Moyes said. “I might say other things in the weeks to come but having everyone close to the team helps.
“Balbuena was great, Haller contributed so we have a good squad, but we can’t afford too many of them to pick up injuries.”
Balbuena made the last of his 12 top-flight appearances for the season as the Hammers drew 2-2 at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, before Watford loanee Craig Dawson was then awarded his debut at Southampton, and Moyes has never looked back.
Moyes also overlooked Balbuena when assessing his options to replace Angelo Ogbonna after the Italian sustained a high ankle sprain in the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United, with Issa Diop instead recalled and starting the Irons’ last seven top-flight fixtures.
Moyes speaking on the impact that Balbuena had in the same breath as Haller, who was sold for £20m in January, may come as a hint to the Scottish tactician already drawing a line under the Paraguayan’s time at West Ham ahead of his contract expiring in June.
Balbuena was expected to earn a new deal back in December before falling out of favour at the London Stadium, where rumours surfaced on deadline day of the winter market that the Irons would listen to offers for the £40,000-per-week enforcer.
The 29-year-old has since been linked with clubs from around the world – including Flamengo, Internacional, a Saudi Arabian side and an MLS outfit – while his agent Renato Bittar confirmed last month that discussions had already taken place with potential suitors.
The Athletic’s Roshane Thomas also questioned Balbuena’s West Ham future following last month’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal, noting on the Fine Margins podcast: “Balbuena – it’s a tough one right now. Because his agent has come out and said all sorts of crazy stuff. Like for example, for now, he’s not really a West Ham player.
“He’s sort of looking to move abroad. So Moyes will have to think about it, I think. Or play someone who’s more committed – someone who wants to be here for the long-term.”
Moyes’ recent comments seem to strengthen the likelihood of Balbuena heading through the exit door when his deal expires this summer, having potentially failed to make 60 appearances in claret and blue over three years in east London following his £6.5m arrival.