FREDDIE Sears is still part of Gianfranco Zola's long-term plans but the Hammers boss hinted his striker will have to go on loan to 'prove himself.'

The 19-year-old faces stiff competition for a first-team birth when Dean Ashton resumes training over the pre-season meaning Sears may be sharpening his skills away from the Boleyn Ground.

Zola said: "I think the right thing for him to do for him to go on loan to play. He has worked hard here but has not been playing enough, sometimes ten minutes, sometimes a full game.

"Probably he never got what he wanted. He has improved as a player but needs to play regularly."

Last season James Tomkins and Jordan Spence both spent time away from Upton Park at Championship Derby County and League One Leyton Orient respectively.

"Unfortunately here it is difficult for him. Next season he will have the possibility of going on loan and to prove himself. Then he will come back here as we believe he is an important player for us in future," Zola added.