The 43-year-old, who was appointed as successor to Alan Curbishley in September 2008, only just managed to keep the club in the top flight and was today removed by the club's new co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold.

The Hammers finished 17th to narrowly avoid relegation and Zola's time ran out. His dismissal is a far cry from his first year in charge, when, with no previous managerial experience, he guided the club to ninth place in the Premier League and was rewarded with a new four-year contract.

But it was never an easy ride for the amicable Italian who many critics claimed was too nice to cope with managing at the top level.

The success he enjoyed during that first season was always overshadowed by financial problems off the pitch under their former Icelandic owners.

But, as the team struggled in his second season, Zola's position was questioned time and again, especially when Gold and Sullivan moved back into the East End and took control of the club in January.

As Zola attempted to steer the team out of danger at the foot of the table, he was also having to deal with comments from Sullivan.

The co-owner apologised to supporters for a "shambolic" and "pathetic" performance against Wolves in March and Zola's position became increasingly isolated.

Zola also said he was unaware of moves to make the entire first team squad, except for Scott Parker, available for transfer and kept in the dark over a bid for West Brom midfielder Graham Dorrans.

But instead of sacking Zola on their arrival the co-owners stood firm and publicly backed him.

The Italian clearly had the solidarity of his squad but he had garnered little support where it mattered and the end was not unexpected.

A statement from the club read: "West Ham United confirm that they have terminated the contract of Gianfranco Zola.

"The board of directors would like to thank him for his contribution and wish him well for the future. The club will now be focusing its efforts on seeking a replacement.

"The club will be making no further comment on this matter."

The search for Zola's successor is likely to be a long one with Sullivan and Gold determined to make the right decision.

Former West Ham striker Tony Cottee would love to see Croatia boss and former West Ham defender Slaven Bilic back at Upton Park.

"The fans want a manager who will bring success," said Cottee. "The right man for me is Slaven Bilic, I think he is head and shoulders above the other candidates.

"I would love to see him return to West Ham.

"He has had a great experience with Croatia but they didn't qualify for the World Cup and if West Ham could give him an escape route I think he would take it. He has a lot of passion for the club and still has a place in London."

Former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes and current Portsmouth manager Avram Grant have also been linked with the post.

Hughes could be top choice for the co-owners although he has also been linked as a possible successor to Rafa Benitez at Liverpool should the Spaniard decide to quit Merseyside.

Cottee, meanwhile, applauded the board for dealing with Zola's future swiftly.

"I am pleased they haven't messed around and it dragged on for months," Cottee told Sky Sports News.

"If they are going to do it, get it done, but the fans will judge it on the calibre of the manager coming in.

"I think Gianfranco has done a decent job in difficult circumstances.

"It hasn't been easy for him, everything that could have gone wrong at West Ham has gone wrong.

"And at the end of the season Gianfranco and the players have done well to stay up. But having said that the results haven't been good enough and obviously the board have now made a decision."

"What I would criticise them (the board) for is not sacking him when they first arrived at the club.

"It did appear right from the start that Zola was not their man. Various things have happened through the season that have undermined the management and the players, emails and things getting into the press. That doesn't make for a happy camp. I don't think the board handled it very well."