Football: Yorke `one of the greatest' says Zola

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GIANFRANCO ZOLA yesterday hailed Dwight Yorke as one of the greatest strikers he had ever played against as Manchester United's record signing revealed that he had never doubted his ability to succeed at Old Trafford.

As he did so possibly the world's best striker issued a warning to Alex Ferguson's side ahead of next week's second leg of their Champions' League quarter-final tie with Internazionale. Ronaldo announced to the Italian Press that he felt in fine form after returning from a long period on the sidelines.

Yorke took his tally for the season to 26 goals and United's to 100 in all competitions by matching his double strike against Inter Milan with two against Chelsea on Wednesday night that set up an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Villa Park. Since moving from Aston Villa last summer for pounds 12.6m, the striker has lit up not only the Premiership but also Europe to prove one of Alex Ferguson's shrewdest acquisitions.

The United manager believes that Yorke is the favourite for the coveted player of the season award and Zola, and his team-mate Roberto Di Matteo, were just as effusive in their possibly more subjective praise. Zola, voted player of the year in his first season in England, has lit up Serie A and the world stage for Italy, and clearly recognises immense talent when he sees it.

The former Italian international said: "He's great, I would put him in the greatest category. He's doing very well this season and has completed his game. Above all, he is in complete symphony with his team, that's a point which makes him very effective."

For it is not just Yorke's goalscoring prowess, exemplified by his sublime 20-yard chip to secure victory at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, but his all-round game which impresses Zola. After losing the services of Eric Cantona, United have discovered a new talent not only to inspire them but also to gel their many other creative forces.

"I'm really impressed at the way he is playing. Apart from the goals, he is playing very well as he holds the ball at the right moment and allows the team to get up. He is very effective for his team," Zola said.

Di Matteo, an Italian international, added: "He's certainly one of the top strikers I've seen and I've seen some good strikers in my time. He's in great shape and is making the difference at the moment for Manchester United. Give him half a chance and he scores, even when they're not playing well - and that's vital."

Yorke has taken the best part of 10 years to become an overnight success with the full range of his talents only now being fully recognised and appreciated following his move to Old Trafford. Some doubted Ferguson's wisdom in spending so much on him but Yorke never once doubted his ability to perform at the highest level.

With his ready smile as wide as ever, the striker is relishing the chance to play on the biggest stages in the game, given that his international career with Trinidad and Tobago means that he seems unlikely ever to grace the World Cup finals. "If I didn't think I could handle such a daunting prospect as going to Manchester United I wouldn't have come here but I'm delighted with the way things have turned out," he said.

The treble is now looking less of an impossible dream as United stand top of the Premiership, are 2-0 up from the first leg of their Champions' League quarter-final against Inter Milan and are in the FA Cup semi-finals.

But as Inter loom, Ronaldo awaits. He returned to action for 30 minutes of an Italian Cup semi-final, second leg at Parma on Tuesday and said: "I feel great and am very happy to have made it back into the team."

He anticipates playing at least part of the game against United. "This team needs me and my goal now is to play in the derby and against Manchester United," he was quoted as saying in the daily Corriere dello Sport.