Football: Hammers downplay Juve link

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ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO will play for West Ham when John Hartson is unfit and the World Cup-winning midfielder, Zinedine Zidane, will stand by to replace Eyal Berkovic should the Israeli playmaker pull a muscle. That, at least, seemed the tantalising scenario yesterday when it was announced that the Hammers are considering some kind of partnership scheme with Juventus.

The truth of the matter, unfortunately, is somewhat more mundane. Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, travelled to Rome on a scouting mission last weekend, and met the Juventus general manager, Luciano Moggi, while he was there. On returning to London, Redknapp told ClubCall: "It is clear Juventus are really enthusiastic about linking up with us."

The assumption was immediately made that players from both sides would be jetting between Italy and the East End, and that Ian Wright would be as likely to face Milan or Internazionale each week as Charlton or Wimbledon.

Yesterday Peter Storrie, the Hammers chairman, said: "Harry went to watch a game. He had a discussion [with Moggi] and [Moggi] said `Would it be a good idea to have an association?' and Harry said to him: `You'll have to talk to our chairman.' And that's it, nothing else." Storrie added that he may go to Italy to meet Juventus officials at some stage, but nothing is planned yet and he has no idea what to expect from any association.

Redknapp said: "If it developed, there would obviously be the opportunity for us to loan and buy top players from Juventus, when they become available." But nothing has yet developed, and Didier Deschamps and Edgar Davids will just have to wait a while longer for their chance at Upton Park.

At the less glamorous end of the London transfer market, Brentford have signed the defender Hermann Hreidarsson from Crystal Palace, the former club of their chairman and manager, Ron Noades.

The 24-year-old Icelandic international has cost the Third Division side pounds 750,000 - a club record fee and the biggest fee paid by a Third Division club. It almost trebles the previous Brentford record of pounds 275,000, paid out for the striker Joe Allon nearly six years ago. Noades has also signed Palace's Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, Tony Folan, for pounds 100,000.

The Bury manager, Neil Warnock, has warned off the Premiership strugglers Sheffield Wednesday by putting a pounds 4m price tag on his highly-rated goalkeeper, Dean Kiely.

The Wednesday manager, Danny Wilson, is also trying to sign the striker Ashley Ward from his old club Barnsley this week - but faces a fight with Leicester City.

Wilson wants Ward to lead his attack at Hillsborough - but Leicester are also keen on the experienced forward as a partner for Emile Heskey.

Bradford City are to give John McGinlay a free transfer - less than a year after his pounds 625,000 move from Bolton. The Scottish international striker is fit again, after an Achilles tendon operation put him out of contention for the World Cup.