TRANSFER LATEST: Joel Ward set to decide future this weekend as Ipswich Town battle five divisional rivals for signature

JOEL Ward will this weekend finally decide where he will play his football next season – with a potential SIX Championship clubs battling for his signature.

The Ipswich Star can reveal that one of Paul Jewell’s top targets has been left hugely impressed with both the Town boss, who he met in March, and the coaching ability of Chris Hutchings as well as owner Marcus Evans who Ward’s representatives spoke with this week.

But Ipswich face a huge battle to sign the versatile 22-year-old – for a price of around �500,000 from relegated Portsmouth – after he also met with the respective managers of divisional rivals Leeds United, Crystal Palace and Burnley.

And we understand Blackpool, who will tomorrow take on West Ham for a place in the Premier League, and newly-promoted Sheffield Wednesday could also make a late foray with the latter already flexing their financial muscle just two weeks after their return to the second tier.

A source close to Portsmouth said: “Joel is taking his time because he wants to make sure he makes the right move. That said, he is keen to get his future resolved as quickly as possible.

“I know Joel was left very impressed by his talks with Paul Jewell as well as the club’s facilities. But he was impressed with all four clubs he spoke with, they all have very different managers and different sets of ambitions.”

While it would be easy to suggest Ward’s representatives are looking to turn the transfer saga into an auction, we understand Evans was particularly blunt in telling them Ipswich would not get themselves involved in a bidding war.

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The Star can reveal that Portsmouth born-and-bred Ward’s three main factors in choosing his next club are:

– Which club will give him the best chance of achieving Premier League football as quickly as possible

– A manager who can improve on his potential the most

– The club who has the best infrastructure and training facilities

Defender-cum-midfielder Ward, and his Pompey team mates Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson, were subject to a �1.75 million joint bid by Town in January and then met with Jewell for a tour of the ground on the eve of the emergency loan window deadline in March.

But on both occasions, Portsmouth refused to sanction a move meaning Ward stayed to try help his boyhood club fight against relegation.