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Desperate Hammers out to hijack Bridge loan move

West Ham United were last night attempting to hijack Wayne Bridge's loan move to Aston Villa after also agreeing to pay the left-back his full wages at Manchester City -- a staggering £90,000 a week.

Whether Bridge would play for Avram Grant if the deal went through is in severe doubt though. The club are understood to be actively examining alternatives to the manager who arrived only last summer, but has recently lost support.

Grant will take charge of today's FA Cup tie at home to Barnsley and, probably, the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Birmingham City, but is unlikely to be retained beyond that if West Ham can attract their first-choice replacement.

It is believed they may have identified a candidate and it's likely it is a manager who is not currently employed. West Ham have previously considered moves for Sam Allardyce and Martin O'Neill, while Chris Hughton has also been mentioned, but it is unclear who is their preferred choice should a change be made.

Discussions are ongoing, but it seems that Grant's regime is reaching its end, while West Ham are desperately attempting to bolster their squad as they try to avoid relegation. A complication is that they have hit their 25-man squad limit -- which led to the collapse of Steve Sidwell's move -- but West Ham have re-kindled their interest in Bridge.

It was revealed yesterday that Villa had agreed to take Bridge on loan for the rest of the season and also agreed to City's demand that his wages are paid in full. Villa boss Gerard Houllier confirmed there has been a "dialogue" between the clubs about the 30-year-old defender who would replace out-of-favour Stephen Warnock.

West Ham had inquired about Bridge before Christmas, but baulked at paying him such a high salary. It would make him, as he would be at Villa, the club's highest-paid player. Yesterday morning they decided that they, too, would meet City's demands. It is now up to Bridge to decide who he wants to join.

Left-back has been identified as one of three positions West Ham are desperate to strengthen during this window -- along with a striker and central midfielder -- but there may be surprise that the club are prepared to pay so much to attract Bridge. However it also highlights the clamour to avoid relegation.

Yesterday Grant insisted he still felt confident he was the right man to continue managing West Ham. "If not, then I wouldn't be here," the Israeli said. "I'm sure that we can deal with this challenge and all of the difficulties."

Grant insisted that West Ham were moving in the right direction, despite the 5-0 defeat to Newcastle United in midweek which returned them to the bottom of the table. "If you look at where we were three months ago, we are now in a much better situation and in the same situation as the seven teams around us," he said.

"It's not easy. But everybody, including the owners, has agreed that we need to make the squad stronger. Even when all of our players are fit, we are still one of the main candidates for relegation."

That may be realistic, but it is hardly the kind of talk that might convince the owners to stick with Grant for the battles ahead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent