“I always thought he would be a coach,” said Hutchinson, the former Chelsea chief executive who signed Zola from Parma for £4.5m in 1996 and is now on the committee of Blue Square Premier side Eastbourne Borough.
“While he was still a player, I had many conversations with him about starting to think about coaching and taking his coaching badges.
“He always resisted because he was so focused on playing that he didn’t want to contemplate doing anything else until he’d retired.
“He’s got what the Italians call personality. You only have to see him on the field to see he has a brain, but also in conversations it was clear he understood tactics.
“He’s the kind of guy who will earn respect – because not only has he done it, but he is a wonderful person.
“Having said all that, he’s also got a tough streak in him. He knows what he wants and he gets on and does it.”
Asked if he felt Zola, 42, had it in him to crack down on players when he needed to, Hutchinson told the Daily Star: “I think he will, for behind that smile is a brain and if he has to be tough, he will be tough.
“I don’t know how the West Ham fans will take to him, but they should judge him on what he does for the club and forget his connection with Chelsea.
“I’m not surprised he has gone for the job. It is a great opportunity.”