Grant hails Hitzlsperger quality

Hitzlsperger was the Hammers’ marquee summer last summer, leaving

Italian giants Lazio to join the Londoners on a free transfer. The

former Aston Villa midfielder starred in the club’s pre-season

campaign and looked set to be a fixture in the side before he

pulled his calf while playing for Germany against Denmark in

August. He returned to training eight weeks later but suffered the

agony of having the muscle come off the bone completely, ruling him

out for four months. After two starts in the reserve team, Grant is

ready to throw Hitzlsperger into action in Monday’s FA Cup

fifth-round clash with Burnley and predicts the Germany captain’s

quality and experience mean he will become a vital asset in the

club’s bid to avoid relegation. “He will play on Monday. I don’t

know how long but he will play,” Grant said. “If he is like he was

in the [pre-season] training camps and preparation he will be one

of the best midfield players in the league because of his vision,

touch and ability to score goals and provide assists. “He knows how

to defend, he’s clever, he was very good in every game – he scored

or gave an assist. “This is one of the reasons why they made him

captain of German team.” How exactly Grant intends to fit

Hitzlsperger into the team for the rest of the season is unclear.

The former Aston Villa man has limited experience of playing down

either flank and his favoured position is in central midfield,

where Scott Parker and Mark Noble have developed a good partnership

for the club this season. That does not worry manager Grant though,

who is happy to have another experienced head available for what

has so far been a disappointing campaign for the Upton Park club.

“He can play in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 as holding midfielder or as an

attacking midfielder,” the Israeli said. “I have had a headache for

most of the games this season because of the number of injuries.

“Against Blackpool we were missing five or six players. This is

another kind of headache. It is not easy but I like it more.” Grant

plans to name a strong side for Monday’s match against the npower

Championship team and is hoping a cup win will take the focus off

his side’s season-long fight against relegation. Grant has fond

memories of the FA Cup having overcome the odds to take Portsmouth

to the final last year when they lost 1-0 to Chelsea. A leaked memo

this week suggested that organisers are planning to change the

competition’s format to scrap replays and move the final kick-off

to the evening. Grant is a big fan of how the competition is now

though. He said: “I like the tradition of the FA Cup, I like it

very much. “I don’t feel it needs to change because it is unique.

“We have a problem because games are becoming more and more

demanding but we must always think about the people who are coming

to watch the game. “They like the tradition of the game, they like

the tradition of the past.”