BREAKOUT sensation Jordan Zemura has revealed that former left-back Diego Rico “was top with me last year,” before the Spaniard’s exit opened the door on a first-team opportunity.

Academy graduate Zemura, who is currently on international duty with African nation Zimbabwe, has been a revelation for Scott Parker’s Cherries during the 2021-22 season, after it looked as though his position could have been a weak one in the squad.

But after playing just a small handful of senior games in his career, the 21-year-old has gone on to star in every minute of Cherries’ unbeaten run to top the table and has contributed to five clean sheets in 11 games.

Rico, 28, moved back to his native Spain this summer with La Liga side Real Sociedad after three years on the south-coast at Vitality Stadium.

While his effort and application could never be questioned in a Cherries shirt, his exit paved the way for a new star to be born in young Zemura.

And he reflected on Rico’s contribution to his developing game, telling the Daily Echo: “Fair play to Diego.

“He was top with me last year, he helped me out a lot and it was good for him to be around. I just learnt a lot from him.

“Then from the club I spoke to the chief exec, Franno, just telling them I’m ready. I think they realised that as well.”

Cherries also made the loan acquisition of left-footed full-back Leif Davis, also 21, from Premier League outfit Leeds United.

Davis had also only played a limited amount of senior games, but was part of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds first-team squad during the Championship promotion campaign and last season’s successes in the top flight.

Zemura continued: “So for me now, me and Leif are just going to push each other.

“I think he’s a top player. I think that’s the best thing in a team, when you’ve got competition like that it means you’ve got to fight for your position.”

He added: “And of course, you respect each other on a mutual level.”