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Premier League

Zola sets sights on £7m striker Pazzini

Dual boost for Hammers as Dyer nears return with match behind closed doors

West Ham United are interested in signing the £7m-rated Italian striker Giampaolo Pazzini, but it is the return today of Kieron Dyer, out of action since a double-break to his right leg in August 2007, which is causing excitement at Upton Park.

A specially-arranged, behind-closed-doors practice match at the club's training ground is scheduled to take place today with the England international, if he comes through the game unscathed, hoping to return to first-team action in time for the busy Christmas schedule. "It's like we are signing a £6m player," said one West Ham source in reflection of the fee that was paid for the player.

Dyer, who turns 30 this month, was injured in a pre-season friendly away to Bristol Rovers less than two weeks after he joined the club from Newcastle United in a four-year deal. It had been hoped that he would return in six to nine months but the midfielder, who can also play as a striker, suffered a series of setbacks and underwent a number of operations as his injury persisted. Having returned to training in the summer it was hoped he would start this campaign but he suffered pain in his shin.

Dyer's expected return will provide a major boost to West Ham who are, at last, seeing their crippling injury list clear up in the face of their worrying league form. Mark Noble and Matthew Etherington are back in training and while although Danny Gabbidon and Dean Ashton are still out the latter has, at least, started jogging again on a gym treadmill after yet another ankle injury and it is hoped he will return next year.

West Ham would, nevertheless, like to sign Pazzini who is well-known to the manager Gianfranco Zola from his time with the Italian Under-21 side. He has struggled to make an impression in the Fiorentina first-team, especially after the signing of Alberto Gilardino from Milan and, now aged 24, is understood to be keen to again link up with Zola and try his luck in the Premier League.

Understandably, given West Ham's financial predicament, with the owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson hoping to sell the club, Zola has been told that he needs to sell before he can buy. At the same time the Italian has made clear that he wants to trim the unwieldy squad he inherited from his predecessor Alan Curbishley, and the names of a number of players has been circulated to other clubs. West Ham already have eight players out on loan.

Those up for sale include Calum Davenport, Nigel Quashie, Jonathan Spector, Luis Boa Morte, Lee Bowyer and Hayden Mullins with Zola wanting to reduce the size of the first-team squad to around 26 rom its current total of around 32. West Ham have a number of highly promising young players, including Freddie Sears, Jack Collison and James Tomkins.

The club have also not received any inquiry from Tottenham Hotspur over their goalkeeper Robert Green – who caused some friction last summer over his demands over a new contract but who is wanted by the club – or Matthew Upson who, equally, is not for sale.

Executives have dismissed claims that they want to sell either Craig Bellamy or Carlton Cole, who recently signed a new five-year deal, despite the financial crisis and the potentially damaging compensation owed to Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair which is pre-occupying the club. West Ham say they need to hang on to their most important players if they are to avoid relegation.


West Ham matches missed by Kieron Dyer since breaking his leg in August 2007.