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Scale of Hammers debt stuns Sullivan

DAVID Sullivan laid bare the full scale of the financial meltdown at West Ham United after taking control of the club.

Sullivan blamed the Icelandic for-mer owners for the spiralling debt -- which he estimated could be as much as £110m -- as a result of excessive spending on transfers and wages and borrowing against future income.

Sullivan and David Gold, the former Birmingham City owners, have jointly bought a 50pc stake in the club for about £50m from CB Holdings, which repossessed West Ham in June when Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the former owner, was declared bankrupt. Sullivan and Gold have also invited fans to buy a stake.

"We are like a government of national unity in crisis," Sullivan said.

The new owners have targeted qualifying for the Champions League within seven years, want to rent the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 London Games and pledged money for transfers this month in an attempt to avoid relegation.

West Ham are 16th in the Premier League, above the relegation zone only on goal difference.

Sullivan met Gianfranco Zola, the manager, for the first time last night and claimed that he was not in the habit of sacking managers. "He is staying," Sullivan said.

West Ham plan to sign two strikers and have made an approach for Benni McCarthy, of Blackburn Rovers, and Benjani Mwaruwari, of Manchester City. They are also considering Alan Hutton, of Tottenham Hotspur, and Luke Young, the Aston Villa defender, to play right back.

It is expected that Gianluca Nani, the club's technical director, will lose his job within a week. Scott Duxbury, the chief executive, may not survive beyond the short term and there will be other casualties as Sullivan endeavours to cut costs.