Gianfranco Zola believes managing Craig Bellamy handed him invaluable experience during his first few months as West Ham United boss.

Zola has revealed that the Manchester City hitman gave him and his team-mates a few headaches during his time at the Boleyn Ground, expressing his honest opinions on how the Hammers could improve their fortunes.

The 30-year-old joined City in January 2009 after 18 months with West Ham, during which time he made 26 appearances, scoring nine goals, and is expected to be in Mark Hughes' lineup when the two teams meet in the Barclays Premier League at Eastlands on Monday evening.

Zola admitted Bellamy's whole-hearted approach tested him following his own arrival in east London a year ago. However, nine months after the Wales forward moved on to pastures in search of a "new challenge", the manager admitted the experience of dealing with such a character helped to develop his own skills.

"I loved working with him because he tested me a lot during my first year as a manager. Bellamy took me to a point where I had to force myself a lot into management because he's a person who can be hard because he's got a fire inside.

"If you approach it in the right way, he can give you a lot of satisfaction. We worked together very well. He knew I wanted to help him in order to have him helping me.

"He's always somebody that you have to listen to the second thing that he's said because the first thing can sometimes be hard. I tell you, sometimes it's good because he's honest and he's not worried about saying something wrong, even to the manager! He is honest and has the desire to get better and to make the team better."

Bellamy's desire to 'make the team better' overflowed after the Hammers' 1-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Hull City in October 2008 - less than a month after Zola's arrival.

"I remember the only time we came close to having an argument was after we played against Hull City over there. I came back on the bus with the team and I wasn't very unhappy because we had played a good game and lost through a mistake.

"I found out that he'd been very unhappy with some of the players. After I found out I spoke to him and said 'Look, if you're going to have another thing like that with the players, you're going to have a problem', and he said 'Are you threatening me?' and I said 'No, I'm not'. After that, we respected each other and everything went very well.

"He always told me his opinion and I always listened to his opinion. He was willing to listen to my advice as well."

Zola learned to respect Bellamy's honest approach, and admitted he has learned that, as a manager, he sometimes needs to speak his mind when before he would have kept his counsel.

"At the beginning you might not like it because you are playing and you don't want to hear him talking and telling you everything. But, in the end, if you know that person is doing it for the good of the team then you take it and it can be helpful.

"Sometimes it is worse when you don't say anything. It's true. I am learning, sometimes it is better if somebody talks, even if what they say is quite hard. That goes for a player and myself as well.

"There are moments when maybe a player is going through emotions and, in that moment, you need to tell him off. It depends on the case, if it needs to be in that precise moment, then I will do it."

While Bellamy's pace and directness are now forming part of Manchester City's attack, Zola hopes he now has a similar talent at his disposal in the form of Zavon Hines.

The 20-year-old forward has burst on to the scene in recent weeks, scoring in the Carling Cup win over Millwall and impressing in subsequent meetings with Wigan Athletic, Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers.

Zola conceded that Hines has yet to reach the standards set by Bellamy, but believes the Academy graduate can be an important player at Eastlands on Monday evening.

"I don't think he's got the pace or the finishing of Craig Bellamy, but this boy has got a lot of desire and he can really pester the opposition. It's good. He's turning out really well and I expect him to improve as well."