Zola keen to fill forward gaps

WEST HAM boss Gianfranco Zola confirmed at the end of last season that improving the Hammers forward line was his top priority and true to his word, he is going about the job with relish, writes DAVE EVANS. Having got rid of ageing, fading strikers Diego

WEST HAM boss Gianfranco Zola confirmed at the end of last season that improving the Hammers' forward line was his top priority and true to his word, he is going about the job with relish, writes DAVE EVANS.

Having got rid of ageing, fading strikers Diego Tristan and David Di Michele, his and technical director Gianluca Nani's job is to find a couple of exciting replacements.

It seems that Chilean international Luis Jimenez will be the first in line, but there are plenty of others who seem to fit the bill for the Hammers.

Also attracting interest at Inter is young Italian striker Robert Acquafresca, someone Zola knows well from his time as coach to the national under-21 team, who reached the quarter-finals of the Olympics.


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The 21-year-old scored 14 goals in 36 games last season on a season-long loan to Sardinian outfit Cagliari.

Zola, of course, was born in Sardinia, and played for Cagliari at the end of his career, and that connection, as well as the under-21 link, may give him the edge in the race for his signature.

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West Ham have scouts at the European under-21 Champion-ships which began this week, and where Acquafresca is tipped as one of the stars.

Back at home, the Hammers have been linked with two Manchester City strikers, but looking at the prospective price of them, the chances are that if a deal is to be done, it will involve a West Ham player going the other way.

Daniel Sturridge is a hot prospect at just 19, and scored against the Hammers at Eastlands last season.

His chances have been limited somewhat though since the arrival of Craig Bellamy and Jo in January, and he is out of contract this summer.

However, his tender age means that a fee will be involved for the player, with around �8million a suggestion of his potential worth.

Also at Manchester City is Equadorian international striker Felipe Caicedo.

The 20-year-old has scored seven goals for City last season after his �5.2million move from Swiss side Basle, and a �3million bid may prise the 16-cap forward away from City.

But he is thought to be not good enough for West Ham and not the sort of player that Zola is looking for, as he looks to adopt an attacking 4-3-3 formation next season.

In any case, Mark Hughes may look to use the strikers as a bargaining tool for Matty Upson and that would be unthinkable to many West Ham supporters.

Perhaps just as unthinkable would be the potential signing of Michael Owen from relegated Newcas-tle United.

The 29-year-old former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker had his agent send out a CV to top-flight clubs including Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Everton, as well as West Ham, extolling the virtues of the former England striker.

Certainly on paper, Owen's credentials are impeccable.

He has scored 40 goals for England in just 89 internationals, and scored regularly at all three of his club sides.

However, injury has blighted his time at St James' Park and he could do little to avert Newcastle's relegation.

A fit and raring to go Owen would be a huge asset to any team, not least West Ham, but with Dean Ashton a constant injury worry, and Kieron Dyer another fragile player, would it be wise to risk a huge salary on Owen, even if he is a free agent? Probably not.

Zola was forced to go with two 33-year-olds last season and this time round he wants youth to work alongside the experience of Ashton and Carlton Cole, and therefore Jimenez and Acquafresca seem to be the likelier choices.

There is competition for both of course, but it seems last week's takeover will not put West Ham at a disadvantage at the negotiating table.

The sight of Zola and Nani at the negotiating table will certainly help too.

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