Dailly The Middle Man

CHRISTIAN Dailly admits that he is relishing the challenge of establishing himself as a midfield regular in Alan Pardew's Premiership starting line-up.

The 31-year-old has spent the vast majority of his Upton Park career playing in the centre of defence but, following the impressive displays by young pair Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward at the end of last season and the subsequent summer arrival of Cardiff City duo Danny Gabbidon and James Collins, he faced a tough battle to win back his place.

However, after fighting his way back to full fitness following a serious knee injury that ruled him out of virtually the entire 2004-05 campaign, the Scottish international has now been earmarked by Pards for a midfield position.

The Hammers boss revealed his plans during last week's tour to Sweden and, following an impressive display in the first game against Falkenbergs, Dailly insists he is more than ready to take on the new role.

"It's a position I'm used to playing in, especially for Scotland," he says. "I'm comfortable in centre-midfield and I'm pretty familiar with what's required of a player in that position.

"Obviously, for the last few seasons I've played mostly at centre-half, so it's going to be important for me to adapt my game to playing in midfield. You get through more work in midfield, but being something of a fitness fanatic I don't feel like that will be a problem.

"Also, your range of passing has got to be good and you've got to be really switched on to what's going on both in front of you and behind you. It requires some different skills, but I feel that I can do a good job there and if that's where the manager wants me then I'll give it my best."

For Dailly, it's simply the prospect of having his Saturday afternoons taken up by football again that he is most looking forward to. Having overcome his injury problems, he returned to play an important part at the end of the campaign, appearing as a late substitute to help his team-mates hold on to vital leads against Watford, Ipswich Town and then Preston in the play-off final in Cardiff.

Despite seeing his season end just as it had begun, though, the versatile performer was thankful for a summer break, having worked hard all year to achieve his comeback.

"It was great to get back to playing football, especially to be part of what we achieved at the end of the season," he says. "However, I was still grateful for a rest after working so hard to regain my fitness.

"Despite being injured, I was still in training every day, working on my knee and spending time in the gym to keep my general fitness up to standard. In fact, I probably spent more time at the training ground than I would have done had I been fit, and mentally that can be very tough.

"The season was actually extended for me anyway, because I went away on international duty with Scotland. The 90 minutes I played against Belarus was my first full match in almost a year

"So it was nice to have a total rest, re-charge my batteries and get myself ready for pre-season training with the other guys."

And as one of the few existing members of the Hammers squad that tasted the pain of relegation from the Premiership two years ago, Christian has certainly savoured the promotion success and believes that Alan Pardew's squad are well set to take on England's finest.

"I really can't wait to get started," he says. "It's fantastic for the club and the supporters that we are back in the Premiership, because it really is the only place to be.

"The manager has strengthened the squad in the summer, which will create competition for places and boost the confidence among the players. Hopefully we'll do okay and make sure that West Ham United is established as a Premiership force again."