Gianfranco ZolaGETTY

Gianfranco Zola is in line to take the Birmingham job

Brum chiefs announced this afternoon that they’d sacked Rowett – despite only being out the play-offs on goal difference.

While the axed boss could be set for a speedy return to management at Norwich, Birmingham have identified Gianfranco Zola as the man to replace him.

The Far East owners will make cash available for January transfers and believe a big-name boss will help attract talent.

Chelsea legend Zola has managerial experience in England having previously taken charge of Watford and West Ham.

His last job was at Qatari side Al-Arabi, who he left in June.

Bookies reckon Zola’s arrival is a sure thing. BetStars have made Zola the 1/10 favourite to be named the next boss.

Gary RowettGETTY

Gary Rowett was given the boot by Birmingham

“Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola has managerial experience in England”

Spokesman Ian Marmion said: “Following Gary Rowett’s shock sacking, Gianfranco Zola is the overwhelming 1/10 favourite to takeover at St Andrews.

“The former West Ham and Watford manager would bring some Italian flair to the Midlands club and he looks a certainty to return to the Championship.”

Nigel Pearson (5/1), Sam Allardyce (7/1) and Kenny Jackett (8/1) are also in the running.

Rowett’s sacking was a big shock with Birmingham only outside the play-off places on goal difference after winning 2-1 at home to Ipswich on Tuesday night.

The Blues’ previous two results were heavy 4-0 and 3-0 defeats to Newcastle and Barnsley respectively but they are the only two losses in the club’s last seven league matches.

Gianfranco ZolaGETTY

Gianfranco Zola is a Stamford Bridge legend

Birmingham’s new owner Trillion Trophy Asia Limited (TTAL) announced the decision to relieve Rowett of his duties had been taken “with a strategic, long-term view and with the club’s best interests at heart”.

A statement on the club’s official website said: “This has not been an easy decision to make.

“The board would like to thank Gary and his backroom staff for their efforts and wish them all the best for the future.

“Gary came in and immediately stabilised the team amid difficult circumstances and during his tenure improved the club’s fortunes on the field. He has conducted himself professionally on behalf of the club at all times and there is a genuine sadness at this course of action.

“However, new owners Trillion Trophy Asia Limited (TTAL) remains determined to lead the club to a bright and exciting future. Supporters can rest assured that the decision has been taken with a strategic, long-term view and with the club’s best interests at heart.

“An immediate replacement will be sought in order to afford the new manager the time to assess where the existing playing squad needs strengthening. The board recognises the urgency required given that the transfer window will open at the start of January and funds have been made available.

“TTAL has been involved with the club for more than 18 months and has reviewed all playing and non-playing matters during that period.”

Former Birmingham defender Rowett left Burton – who he had taken to successive League Two play-off campaigns – to replace Lee Clark as Blues boss in October 2014 and steered the club away from relegation to a 10th-place finish in the Championship that season. His first full campaign in charge last term again brought a 10th-place finish.

There were positive signs this season that Birmingham might be able to get closer to the top six and sustain a play-off challenge and news of Rowett’s departure has been met with anger by some Blues fans on social media.

However, club director Panos Pavlakis has urged supporters to trust the board’s judgement despite them getting rid of someone widely regarded as one of the brightest young managers in the Football League.

He said in a statement: “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.”

“The club will be making no further comment at this stage.”

Birmingham host title-chasing Brighton on Saturda