West Ham United v Leeds United: Hammers target Gradel back in spotlight

SIMON GRAYSON has hailed the professional attitude shown by Max Gradel since West Ham United’s £2.5m bid was turned down by Leeds United earlier this summer.

The Ivory Coast international, who is due to return to the United side at Upton Park tomorrow after suspension, was wanted by Hammers manager Sam Allardyce to spearhead the London club’s push for promotion.

With Gradel in the final year of his Elland Road contract, the Hammers chief had been hoping to wrestle the wideman away with a cut-price offer only for Leeds to flatly reject their advances.

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Since then, Grayson says, Gradel has been a model professional and never once tried to force United’s hand.

The Leeds manager said: “There was an offer for Max but we didn’t find it acceptable. We have stated all along that we don’t need to sell players.

“If we were to sell them, they would have to be at market value. And their offer was nowhere near market value. They didn’t come back with another offer.

“Max was fine when we turned down the offer. He understood he is under contract and that was that. He has trained and played just like he did before the bid came in.

“He loves playing for Leeds and takes it all in his stride. ”

Asked if Gradel would have a point to prove in front of the live Sky cameras tomorrow lunchtime, Grayson replied: “I want him to go out and do well regardless of who we are playing.

“I want him to do well for the club and not for any way of saying, ‘This is what you missed out on’.

“Mind, I suppose if he scores a hat-trick and they come back in with three times or five times the money they offered, we would have to consider it.”

Leeds travel to East London in confident mood following the manner of Tuesday’s 4-1 thrashing of Hull City, the club’s first win of the season.

Gradel and captain Jonny Howson are available again after suspension, meaning Grayson is likely to go against one of football’s unwritten rules – never change a winning team.

He said: “There won’t be major changes. I am still slightly undecided because those who came into the team did ever so well on Tuesday night. But I also have to look at how much the two returning players have contributed in the past.

“The team picked itself against Hull because they were more or less the only players we had fit. So, it is great to have some options.”

As for the challenge of taking on a Hammers side fresh from back-to-back away wins against Doncaster Rovers and Watford, the United manager said: “West Ham are favourites for the division and they have a wealth of experience. But we go in full of confidence and I see it as a great opportunity to get three points.

“On paper, it is a Premier League fixture. West Ham have made their intentions clear by keeping certain players and also adding others. Kevin Nolan was a big signing.

“They have to go back up. It is Sam’s remit. But it isn’t that easy, as we have seen with a few results already this season. Leicester have already lost two at home, while Cardiff won at West Ham.

“We go there as underdogs, which doesn’t happen too much. But it is a fact. Fifteen months ago, we were in League One and they were in the Premier League. That is a big gulf.

“You also look at the core of West Ham’s team and they have (Robert) Green, (Carlton) Cole and (Scott) Parker all still in the England squad.

“They should win the league. It was a great result on Tuesday when they won 4-0 at Watford.

“The main thing is we feel we can beat anyone.”

Along with deciding whether to bring Gradel and/or Howson back into the starting XI, Grayson has another big dilemma to solve with regards what system to play.

Against Hull, the Leeds chief opted for 4-4-2 with loanee Andy Keogh up front alongside Ross McCormack.

Against the Hammers, however, Grayson may choose to flood midfield to try and counter the threat of Nolan, Parker et al.

He said: “We will go there and try to play in an entertaining manner. But what we don’t want is it to be like a basketball game where play goes from one end to the other.

“If we bore them and nick a late winner, I would take that definitely.”

Along with focusing on tomorrow’s trip to the capital, Grayson has continued his attempts to try and strengthen his squad and is hoping to make progress in the near future.

He said: “We only need to add one or two if possible. Every manager is looking to strengthen. Over the next week or so, I expect the picture to become a bit clearer with the Premier League clubs finalising their 25-man squads.

“One or two people will be left out who thought they were going to have an opportunity to play and may be more open to going out on loan.”