Bent's knee injury stalls West Ham's £12m transfer plan

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The Independent Football

West Ham United are assessing whether Darren Bent's knee injury should deter them from making an offer, thought to be as much as £12m, for the Charlton Athletic striker. They are also keen to sign their former striker, John Hartson, should their attempts to secure Middlesbrough's Mark Viduka fail.

Charlton are understandably reluctant to sell Bent, given their relegation fight, and especially to one of their rivals for the drop, but are thought to accept that such a big bid may be difficult to resist and may also give their new manager, Alan Pardew, the funds to rebuild the team. However, that also has to be weighed up against the limited time he would have to do so.

Among Charlton's targets is Alexei Smertin, who played half a season for Charlton on loan from Chelsea, before returning to Russia last January. The 30-year-old midfielder has had problems at Dynamo Moscow and is understood to be interested in coming back to the Premiership. He has already held talks with Charlton.

Bent strained knee ligaments in the victory against Aston Villa, who have also shown an interest in him, and may be ruled out for up to a month. The extent of the damage will be assessed next week.

The striker was signed by Alan Curbishley, now the manager of West Ham, for just £2m 18 months ago and has blossomed into a consistent goalscorer in the Premiership. Pardew recently installed the 22-year-old as captain in the absence of the injured Luke Young.

The return of Hartson, who is at West Bromwich Albion, would be intriguing, given the role the 30-year-old played in saving West Ham in a similar relegation battle a decade ago.

West Ham hope to be one of the busiest clubs during this month's transfer window. Last week they drew up a list of eight definite targets, headed by the Australian striker Viduka and Chelsea's Shaun Wright-Phillips, but that list is understood to have expanded since the humiliating defeat at Reading on Monday, when they lost 6-0.

Curbishley is particularly keen to bring in more experienced players and enquiries are understood to have been made about Manchester City's Sylvain Distin, whose contract expires this summer. The Frenchman wants to move to a more established Premiership club than West Ham while the Blackburn Rovers defender Lucas Neill, another tentative target, is set to join Liverpool.

Curbishley is also willing to sell, but only once his targets are secured. He has also suffered the blow of the midfielder Lee Bowyer being ruled out for six weeks with a dislocated right shoulder, which may raise the prospect of bids also being mounted for either Fulham's Claus Jensen or West Bromwich's Nigel Quashie. Both players are understood to be available.

Liverpool remain interested in Javier Mascherano, with Juventus appearing to have cooled on the midfielder, but the club certainly will not pay the €25m (£16.8) believed to be the Argentine's current asking price - not that West Ham would receive any of that money. Real Zaragoza are also monitoring the situation, with sources in Argentina remaining confident Fifa rules forbidding the player moving twice within a season can be circumvented.

There is also interest in Yossi Benayoun, not least from Portsmouth, although West Ham may want more than the South Coast side are willing to pay. Instead Portsmouth may attempt to sign West Bromwich's Zoltan Gera, who is also a target for Middlesbrough.

Yesterday, however, Benayoun, who was the subject of a tentative enquiry by Arsenal last summer, reiterated his desire to stay at Upton Park.

"I want to help get us out of the predicament we are in," Benayoun said. "I am proud to wear the West Ham shirt. Clubs go through bad patches and we are experiencing that at the moment but we are determined to climb out of it and we still have the belief we can stay in this division," the Israeli added.

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