WHO Poll
Q: 2021/22 What competition should we prioritise this season?
a. The league is our bread & butter, so this year let's have a club sandwich
27%
  
b. We're owed an FA Cup after Gerrard nicked our last one in 06, our name's on it in 22
10%
  
c. A bye to the League Cup 3rd round gives us a good start, let's make it count
6%
  
d. The Europa is our best ticket to the Champions League, this is the one
36%
  
e. What's wrong with you, let's do the lot, has the quadruple ever been done
21%
  



Irish Hammer 11:43 Tue Sep 21
Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Long and decent interview with the solid and dependable Balbuena. Wish him all the best for his future career.



Fabian Balbuena: ‘I know it’s about hooliganism but watching Green Street helped me settle in and learn English’


It is the final day of the season and West Ham United have exceeded expectations to qualify for Europe.

Having applauded the supporters and joined in a singalong of Sweet Caroline, the players are back in the dressing room and keen to continue the celebrations. But before the party gets underway, manager David Moyes wants to show his gratitude to one particular player.

“Leading up to the Southampton game, I knew it was going to be my last week at West Ham,” Fabian Balbuena tells The Athletic. “I said goodbye to everyone and after the game, the manager got everyone together and said, ‘Thank you for everything, Fabian’, and spoke about me for five minutes. It made me feel so good because the gaffer showed me so much respect. He didn’t have to do that and everyone started clapping after. I almost got emotional.”

After three years at the London Stadium, Balbuena was released when his contract ran out in the summer.

The defender had joined West Ham from leading Brazilian side Corinthians in July 2018, making 62 appearances, scoring three goals, and helping the club go from flirting with relegation to getting back into Europe. Although the now 30-year-old made only 14 appearances in the Premier League last season, with 13 starts, he appreciated the support of Moyes.

“West Ham had an option to extend my contract by a further year,” Balbuena says. “They didn’t use that option and I was prepared for the situation — I wasn’t the first choice at the time.

“I was grateful for the opportunity because he helped me with a lot of things. My confidence was low at one point and Moyes helped me with that. I don’t have any complaints and I could never have anything bad to say about Moyes. As a player, you want to hear from the manager at times like this. He said he was thinking about me until the last day and decided they had to look at other options.

“I have a lot of respect for Moyes.”


When West Ham announced his departure in June, the 19-cap Paraguay international thanked supporters on Twitter. Russian side Dynamo Moscow contacted Balbuena’s representatives and expressed an interest in signing him. Balbuena was also a target for La Liga’s Real Betis, whose manager Manuel Pellegrini signed him for West Ham, but the Seville club were unable to reach an agreement.

Having spoken to the hierarchy at Dynamo Moscow, who finished seventh in the Russian top flight, the defender agreed a four-year contract.

But before Balbuena discusses how much he is relishing his new challenge in a new country, why he hopes Declan Rice will stay at West Ham long term and his role in that memorable late fightback from 3-0 down to snatch a draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, he is keen to highlight why Moyes is a good man-manager.

It was the Scotsman who came to Balbuena’s defence when he was sent off in what turned out to be his last appearance for the club, shown a red card near the end of a 1-0 home loss to Chelsea in April following his challenge on Ben Chilwell.

“It was a really poor decision,” said Moyes. “I can only say it’s someone who’s never played the game who’s made the decision.”

Sure enough, Balbuena’s dismissal was overturned on appeal.

The centre-half made 23 league appearances, all of them starts, in his debut season at the London Stadium. He then made 17 appearances (13 starts) in the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 campaign and was used more sparingly last season. Pellegrini losing his job in December 2019 did not help his situation. The Paraguayan made 62 appearances for the club across all competitions, and captained the side to two wins in the early rounds of the 2020-21 Carabao Cup.

Balbuena believes one of the main factors behind West Ham going from finishing 16th, only being mathematically safe from relegation with a game remaining, to coming sixth and qualifying for the Europa League 10 months later was the camaraderie within the squad.

“Even if you don’t play, Moyes and his backroom staff make you feel important,” he says. “In my case, whenever we’d do defensive drills in training, we all would do the same drill regardless of how many minutes myself, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson or Angelo Ogbonna played. Moyes is a good manager, but probably the best thing about him is he’s able to give you confidence when you don’t play.

“You still feel part of the team, and not every manager can do that. He knows that, at some point during the season, you’ll still be important. That was one of the major factors behind the team spirit being so good. The atmosphere at the training ground was always good. On the coach travelling to games, me, Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio would play poker. It was a family environment.”

Balbuena made over 100 appearances in three years with Sao Paulo side Corinthians after moving from Club Libertad in Paraguay’s capital Asuncion, scoring 11 goals and helping them win the Brazilian title in 2017.

In July 2018, he became West Ham’s sixth senior signing of that summer following the arrivals of manager Pellegrini (to succeed Moyes) and fellow players Diop, Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko, Lukasz Fabianski and Ryan Fredericks. Felipe Anderson, Lucas Perez and Carlos Sanchez followed before the window closed.

“It was an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” says Balbuena. “Ogbonna, Cresswell, Antonio, Mark Noble and Pablo Zabaleta helped me settle. There was quite a big difference from playing in South America to playing in the Premier League. Pellegrini was looking for a South American defender. I was in good form for Corinthians and they felt I would be a good fit.

“I wasn’t nervous about moving to England, but I only knew a little bit about West Ham. I knew that (fellow South Americans) Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano played for them and did very well. But what a lot of people don’t know is I watched the movie Green Street. I know it’s about hooliganism, but that movie helped my English. Then, after I was able to say hello and ask a few things, the club arranged my English lessons.”

When Balbuena is asked about his best memories at West Ham, he immediately thinks of his first goal for the club, in a 1-1 draw away to Leicester City in October 2018. His second goal came almost exactly a year later, in a 3-2 home loss to Newcastle.

His goal in the 3-3 draw against bitter local rivals Tottenham the following October will also live long in the memory. After being 3-0 down by the 16th minute, a hammering looked on the cards at the new White Hart Lane.

But Balbuena got one back in the 82nd minute to give West Ham a glimmer of hope, before an own goal from Davinson Sanchez and a terrific long-range strike from Manuel Lanzini completed a historic comeback.

“I loved it whenever we’d beat big teams — especially Tottenham,” says Balbuena. “The last 10 minutes of that game was insane. The three chances Tottenham had, they scored. I thought we played well at times and the second half was the difference for us. We just had the belief we could get something from the game.

FABIAN-BALBUENA-DYNAMO-MOSCOW
Balbuena has settled well at Dynamo Moscow (Photo: Erik RomanenkoTASS via Getty Images)
“People on Instagram messaged me and people in my street. Even supporters from other teams messaged me. It was an insane moment. No one could have imagined from being 3-0 down that we would go on to score three goals at the end. Manu’s (Lanzini) goal was unreal. What an unbelievable experience.”

It has been common for West Ham’s foreign signings to immerse themselves into life in east London. Pablo Fornals has been spotted frequently in Brick Lane Market and Balbuena always enjoyed the interaction he had with supporters.

“Me and my family enjoyed living in London,” he says. “It reached a point where my wife said in the future we could look at living in London. West Ham fans would come up to me if I was shopping, at a restaurant, whenever I would leave the stadium, the fanbase is unbelievable.

“What I’ve noticed about West Ham fans is once you play for the club, you become part of their family. When the club announced I was leaving, I received so many nice messages. Even now, I still get them. I could upload a picture on Instagram and someone will say, ‘Thank you for everything Fabian’. I’ll always love that fanbase.”

Balbuena formed a close bond with fellow centre-back Ogbonna. The duo got on well, with the former Juventus defender going out of his way to teach his team-mate Italian.

And he is delighted to see the huge strides Fornals has made this season. The 25-year-old scored in his first competitive start for Spain in a World Cup qualifier against Kosovo two weeks ago and has two Premier League goals in five appearances so far in 2021-22, and Balbuena believes there is one contributing factor behind this strong recent form.

“Every day before training me, Fornals, (reserve goalkeeper) Dave Martin and Manu (Lanzini) would play head tennis,” he says. “Fornals would be with Martin and it would be me and Manu —South America vs Europe.

“It has been great watching Fornals playing well, and his form is definitely down to his confidence. He works hard and is playing arguably his best football for the club. If Pablo isn’t in the team, he’s still working hard. That shows how dedicated he is. He’s in good form, and hopefully it continues.”

One player whose form shows no signs of slowing down is Rice.

The England midfielder scored a brilliant solo goal in the 2-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb in last week’s Europa League group opener and while Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have been credited with transfer interest in him, Balbuena believes he will continue to flourish at the London Stadium.

“The best thing about Declan is he listens,” says Balbuena. “He doesn’t let outside noise distract him. I hope he stays at West Ham, because he’s such a special talent. I enjoyed playing with him. I remember when he was younger, and the jury was still out on him. Pellegrini played him as a midfielder and he hasn’t looked back since. His potential is scary because he will be even better in the future.”

Balbuena is excited about his new challenge in Russia.

The defender has started, and played the full 90, in seven of the first eight league games for Dynamo Moscow — and wants to help the club win the Russian title for the first time since 1976. Last season, Dynamo missed out on a European spot by three points but they are now second behind leaders and champions Zenit St Petersburg.

“Next season will be the club’s 100th anniversary and they want to qualify for Europe,” says Balbuena. “It will be a big challenge and we’ve built a good team for this season. When I found out they wanted to sign me, I spoke to my family and we decided to move to Moscow.

“There was interest from other clubs and we spoke to Real Betis. I have a good relationship with Manuel (Pellegrini). He brought me to the Premier League and I learnt a lot from him and his staff, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Moscow was the better option and obviously a new challenge.”

Balbuena has just finished training as we speak and before the interview comes to an end, he signs off with one last message for West Ham supporters.

“Just, thank you for everything,” he says. “The support was incredible and I made friends for life. I always tried my best, whether I was playing or on the bench. The love from the supporters is something I’ll never forget.

“Hopefully they will do well in Europe and I’ll always support the team.”

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

ludo21 9:48 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
I liked the General... hope he's successful in Moscow.

Mr. Burns 8:52 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
When Balbuena is asked about his best memories at West Ham, he immediately thinks of his first goal for the club, in a 1-1 draw away to Leicester City in October 2018.

Not sure that was so good for the Leicester chairman.

the exile 8:48 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Good piece. Good man.

Full Claret Jacket 7:42 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Good interview. Glad he has secured a good contract elsewhere. Hope he does well for them. When he had a run of games he looked really solid but at 30 years old he needs to play regularly.

WHU(Exeter) 7:42 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
What Vexed said

Vexed 4:15 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Top man Balbuena and a better player than the usual suspects on WHO gave him credit for.

willswishwellingtons 3:59 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Irish Hammer 11:43 Tue Sep 21
Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview


Thanks for sharing these.

Irish Hammer 2:52 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview

Fact of the Day

Pedro Obiang & Ogbonna are doing a Degree into Political Science together. Future leaders both !

Northern Sold 2:50 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Seems like a decent egg...

Amazing he learnt English from watching Green Street... should start showing that film in School I reckon...

chim chim cha boo 2:39 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Nice one Irish, a great read as usual and personally I will miss the general.

Block 2:04 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Class touch from Moyes.

Crassus 1:38 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Irish

Thanks mate, top work

Takashi Miike 1:31 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
like Obiang, a top pro who always gave his best

charleyfarley 12:55 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Fabulous Balbuena.... Fabulous Irish.... Thanks Irish

Lee Trundle 12:53 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Always seemed a good egg.

I liked him.

Thanks Irish 12:51 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Another fabulous piece, keep them coming Irish an excellent read

Coffee 12:23 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Far Cough 11:50 Tue Sep 21

Pub Bigot 12:21 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army! Irish Hammers Copy & Paste Army!

Good article. I always liked the General, and it was sad that he's left, but I'm glad he has positive feelings towards us.

Good luck to Dinamo Moscow, and I hope he helps them win the league.

Far Cough 11:50 Tue Sep 21
Re: Fabulous Fabian Balbuena. An Interview
Muchas gracias El General

Thanks Irish





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