Hammers hang their hopes on Upson deal

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The Independent Football

West Ham United thought that they might break their transfer record ­ £7.25m for Dean Ashton in January last year ­ three times this month, such was their determination to pull clear of relegation.

Going into the last day of the transfer window, more than £10m has been spent but the record has not gone. Yet. Charlton Athletic have made clear that they will not sell Darren Bent, even at £16m or more, but West Ham are hopeful that Matthew Upson will arrive from Birmingham City.

The defeat last night against Liverpool showed how new signings are needed. Upson pleaded yesterday with the Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, to be allowed to go, with West Ham expected to up their bid to £9m ­ having failed with offers of £4m, £6m and £7.5m. They are looking at other defensive targets in case the 27-year-old does not join, and were in talks with Milan, possibly over the short-term signing of the experienced Giuseppe Favalli, now 35, who can play at left-back or centre-back.

Upson, who has less than 18 months left on his contract, may try to force Birmingham's hand by threatening to invoke in the summer a clause in new Fifa regulations which means he can be sold for the equivalent of a year's salary ­ around £1m.

West Ham had hoped to sign Bent for £12m and then toyed with the idea of raising their offer to £14m, but in informal talks with Charlton they are believed to have gone as high as £16m and even suggested a package worth £18m. That was the figure Charlton are believed to have quoted to clubs when they announced, after a knee injury, that Bent was for sale. Their manager, Alan Pardew, has since decided against a move as Bent is expected to return to fitness soon. Pardew believes selling his prize asset would be a public admission that Charlton are doomed. Nevertheless, Bent has been promised he can leave in the summer if Charlton are relegated, in which case the club would be keen to rebuild their squad.

What has become clear is that Charlton will not sell to West Ham at any price. Their chairman, Richard Murray, confirmed yesterday that he had talked to West Ham's chairman, Eggert Magnusson. "Obviously I have talked to Mr Magnusson from time to time and I know that he would be interested in Darren Bent, but we haven't had a formal bid and we don't want to receive one," he said.

"Chairmen speak to each other on a regular basis and I am sure that if we wanted to sell Darren Bent, West Ham would be one of the clubs interested. It is not unusual. When you are near the bottom of the division and have the top English striker, you get phone calls. I have had many phone calls from chairmen saying if we are thinking of selling Darren now or in the future, would we keep them involved and West Ham are one of those clubs."

West Ham's manager, Alan Curbishley, used his programme notes last night to bemoan the difficulty of trying to sign players this month, having missed a string of targets including the £9.65m forward Ashley Young, who joined Aston Villa. "It has been difficult because many teams in the Premiership and Championship don't need the money," he said. "They need talented players and are reluctant to let their best go."

Last night's result will have damaged West Ham's cause even further.

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