A MERCURIAL attacking midfielder and infectious character both on and off the pitch, for Junior Stanislas it is small wonder that Gianfranco Zola is weaving his magic in management.
The Italian will always be special to the Burnley winger. Having first joined West Ham when he was just 12 years old, it was under Zola’s watch that Stanislas made his senior debut in March 2009.
Stanislas credits the former Chelsea favourite with helping him make that final step into the first team, not only for the faith he showed in him, but also the extra hours he put in on the training field.
“I used to work with him tirelessly on the training pitch after training,” said Stanislas.
“That was one-on-one.
“I think with a lot of the younger players at the club at the time, he showed a lot of faith in them and took them under his wing, if you like, and gave you that confidence that you probably needed at the time.
“He was really good for the younger players.
“He gave me my senior debut and stuck with me and put a lot of trust in me.
“He played me in a lot of games in his first season and then again in his second season, so I’ve got a lot to be thankful to him for.”
Stanislas, who featured less for West Ham after Zola was sacked at the end of the 2009/10 season and ultimately joined Burnley in the summer of 2011, added: “Seeing him do things like take free kicks after training – he used to train with the boys and he was the best player at training as well; hard to get the ball off.
“He didn't just used to coach us, he used to show us. Obviously he had an unbelievable playing career and I think everyone respects what he’s done as a player.
“I think he’s a mentor for everyone. He’s a very likeable man. He’s always smiling, always laughing, always joking. But when it’s business time he’s quite firm as well.
“He’s a really good manager, and a really good guy as well.”
The two will be reunited tomorrow, but opposite camps means civility will be put to one side for 90 minutes come 3pm. Especially with Stanislas keen to showcase the fruits of Zola’s early labour.
The 23-year-old started the season well under Eddie Howe.
He has struggled for gametime since Sean Dyche came in.
But with two absentees for the Clarets tomorrow, as both Michael Duff and Chris McCann serve a one-match suspension, he would love the opportunity to return to the line-up to face his former mentor.
“I haven’t played too much recently but any game is good to come into and that one would be more special for me I suppose,” said Stanislas, outlining the personal impact of Howe’s departure.
“It was the wrong time for me but he had to do what he felt he had to do. You've got to respect that I guess.
“I thought I had a decent start to the season, scored a couple, and I think I’m one of the top assistors as well.
“The new manager’s come in and things have changed, but you’ve just got to get on with it, work hard every day and try to get in the team.
“It’s been very frustrating personally. I wouldn’t say I’m not used to not playing but I like to think I'm good enough to be a part of the starting XI and I’m disappointed I haven’t been.
“But every day you get the opportunity to go in and train so you’ve just got to work hard and hopefully change his mind.”
He added: “It’s disappointing for me because I want to play every game, as any player wants to, but you’ve got to get on with it. You can’t really moan.”
If Stanislas hasn’t been banging on the door physically, he has metaphorically, particularly with a game-changing contribution from the bench to help secure a late point against rivals Blackburn Rovers at Turf Moor.
“I’ve set a few (goals) up and when I have come on I think I’ve done quite well,” said the wide man, who has assisted Sam Vokes for both of his goals this season.
“You’ve just got to work hard every day in training and see what happens.”
“You can't really miss him, he’s a big man,” he said.
The duo have both pitched strong cases to start with their substitute performances.
But Stanislas knows that, whatever the line-up, Burnley will have to be at their best to stop Zola’s Hornets creating a buzz.
“No matter what team he manages his playing career speaks for itself so a lot of the players admire him and respect him and maybe want to go that extra few yards for him and I think you can see that with Watford,” he said.
“They’ve been scoring freely, they’ve climbed the table and they’re doing really well.
“No doubt they’ve got a lot of quality in their side but I think they would have just stepped it up a few per cent more because of the respect players will have for him as a player himself, and as a manager.”