Gianfranco Zola believes Craig Bellamy could have been one of football's top superstars but for a spate of injuries.
The West Ham boss must find a way to cope with Bellamy's pace in Monday night's Barclays Premier League clash against Manchester City at Eastlands. And while he respects the threat of the controversial Welsh striker, who left Upton Park last January and scored twice in the Manchester derby last week before being involved in an altercation with a fan on the pitch, he insists he could have been even greater.
"Injuries have been the downside of his career, otherwise he would have playing for top teams with more consistency," Zola said.
"The fragility he has got in the muscles has stopped him from being a higher player. But he is a devastating player. Against Manchester United he nearly changed the game."
Zola has struggled to replace 30-year-old Bellamy's pace and verve. He could hand 32-year-old Mexican striker Guillermo Franco his debut against City in a bid to kick-start a season which has struggled to ignite since beating Wolves at Molineux on the first day of the season.
While West Ham have gleaned just four points from five matches and been knocked out of the Carling Cup by Bolton, Zola believes he is building a side capable of qualifying for a European place, adding: "I am getting close to getting the right combination."
If City do the same then Zola believes Mark Hughes, his old Chelsea team-mate and training partner, can break the Premier League's top-four cartel.
He said: "Player-wise Manchester City have everything to be up there with the top four teams. The question is how good as a team they will become. Having 11 wonderful individuals does not make a strong team. But I trust the manager, he is going to do a good job."
Zola also insists it is no coincidence his Italian compatriots such as Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto di Matteo are proving to be accomplished managers in the English game.
He said: "The Italians have always been well known as good managers. We have always been known for being good tactically and tactics are more important in the modern game."
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