Gianfranco Zola: Birmingham City appoint ex-West Ham boss as manager
Gianfranco Zola has been appointed the new manager of Championship side Birmingham City to replace the sacked Gary Rowett.
Former Chelsea and Italy striker Zola, 50, has signed a two-and-half-year contract with the West Midlands club.
Blues, who are seventh in the table, sacked Rowett on Wednesday after he spent more than two years in charge.
Club director Panos Pavlakis said Zola's "pedigree" fits with Blues' ambition to "move in a new direction".
Birmingham announced Rowett's departure at 13:29 GMT on Wednesday with a statement saying "an immediate replacement will be sought" to allow a new manager to assess the squad and spend money in the January transfer window.
Less than six hours later, at 19:15 GMT, the club announced Zola's appointment.
His first match in charge will be at home against second-placed Brighton on Saturday.
Zola's last managerial job was with Qatari side Al-Arabi, but he was sacked in June after just one season. Prior to that, the Italian managed West Ham, Serie A side Cagliari and Watford.
Fellow former Chelsea and Italy team-mate Pierluigi Casiraghi joins him as part of a new backroom team at St Andrew's.
Casiraghi and another Italian Gabriele Cioffi become first-team coaches, while former Chelsea keeper Kevin Hitchcock becomes goalkeeper coach and Blues have also appointed a video analyst, Sebastiano Porcu.
Birmingham were taken over by Chinese firm Trillion Trophy Asia Limited (TTAL) in October.
Rowett's dismissal and Zola's appointment came after the new owners making three new boardroom appointments on Monday.
Wenqing Zhao, Chun Kong Yiu and Zhu Kai, all existing directors of Hong Kong-based Birmingham International Holdings, have formed a new five-man board at St Andrew's, alongside existing directors Pavlakis and Victor Ma.
Rowett was dismissed with Birmingham just outside the play-off places on goal difference after winning 2-1 at home to Ipswich on Tuesday.
The club's two results prior to that were a 4-0 defeat by Newcastle, preceded by a 3-0 loss at home to Barnsley, Blues' only two defeats in seven league matches.
What the club said
13:29 GMT: Club director Panos Pavlakis on Rowett: "Such a parting of the ways is always difficult, particularly so on a personal level as I have worked very closely with Gary and have got to know him well. Our relationship was very strong but in football you can never stand still.
"I would ask that our supporters trust our judgement and look forward to and embrace the future as we begin to implement the exciting vision of TTAL."
19:15 GMT: Pavlakis on Zola: "His pedigree, philosophy and ambition fits with what we would like to achieve as we move in a new direction.
"Gianfranco has a wealth of top-level experience as both manager and player and we are extremely excited about his appointment."
Zola had a 43.9% league win percentage during his most recent job in English football, as he guided Watford to third place in the Championship in 2012-13, before resigning midway through the following season.
Rowett's highest finish with Burton Albion was fourth place in 2012-13 and he left to join Birmingham with a 44.9% win percentage from 188 league games.
At Birmingham, he won 38.8% of his 98 Championship games - finishing 10th in both 2014-15 and 2015-16.
What fans thought
- After Rowett's sacking was announced, almost 15,000 tweets were sent mentioning him
- One of the most popular was a Birmingham fan who said: "Lee Clark and his random line-up generator held the job for longer (846 days) than Gary Rowett (779 days). I've never been so baffled"
- Ex-England cricket captain and Sheffield Wednesday fan Michael Vaughan tweeted that Rowett was a "fantastic young manager", and said "football is a joke"
- After Zola's appointment there were a further 15,000 tweets mentioning the Italian's name, with 6% positive and 73% neutral.
- Blues fan Dale Edgington said: "I don't care if you're angry. If you're 'Blues' you get behind the new manager 100%. Zola didn't sack Rowett"
BBC Radio 5 live Midlands football reporter Pat Murphy
"Rowett took over a couple of days after Birmingham were beaten 8-0 at home by Bournemouth. They were lucky to get nil. They were rubbish.
"On a shoestring in the last two years he's got them to two 10th position finishes in a row. A little wobble recently, but these things happen.
"It's the star syndrome gone mad. Autograph hunters in charge of football clubs now."