It was all over in a matter of minutes when West Ham sacked Gianfranco Zola yesterday but the repercussions are likely to rumble on for months to come. The Italian was put out of his misery with a bullet at breakfast time in a brief meeting with the club's vice chairman Karren Brady.
Yet both sides are set for an acrimonious and protracted legal battle over £1.9m compensation in a dispute that may go all the way to tribunal. Avram Grant, the 55-year-old Portsmouth manager, is the favoured option to take over at Upton Park and there is talk he could be unveiled as the new West Ham manager as soon as Monday, just two days after leading out his current side in the FA Cup final at Wembley. Former England manager Glenn Hoddle and Slaven Bilic, the coach of Croatia, are the other main contenders for the job.
West Ham United's co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan hope to have their new manager in the job soon. Sullivan said yesterday: "We hope to have in place within three weeks an experienced manager. We will study people's past records to find a manager with a proven track record."
They are known to favour a British candidate, or at least a manager with experience of working in the Premier League, which would count against Bilic and Real Mallorca manager Gregorio Manzano.
However the row over Zola's compensation is likely to drag on for some considerable time. It is understood that Zola's contract contains a clause that guarantees him one year's salary of £1.9m in the event of his dismissal. He had three years left to run on his contract, which was extended last April, but the compensation extends only to one year's money.
However his legal team have been informed that West Ham are to argue that Zola was sacked for a breach of contract over comments the Italian made after Sullivan admitted to a newspaper that the whole squad, except for Scott Parker, had been put up for sale. Zola knew nothing of the proposed fire-sale and said: "If I was Mark Noble or Robert Green or Valon Behrami I wouldn't be very pleased to hear that. What can I make of that? I don't know. We have been through so many things and we will go through this as well."
Zola's departure has been on the cards ever since Sullivan and Gold bought half the club in January. Shortly after taking over at Upton Park, Sullivan spoke publicly of his fears that Zola was "too nice" to be a manager and questioned whether he was worth his £1.9m-a-year contract.
Then, following a 3-1 hammering at home to Wolves in late March, Sullivan wrote an open letter to supporters on the club's website calling the team "pathetic" and "shambolic". The club's co-chairmen were divided over what to do with Zola, with Gold arguing the Italian's case, but it was always the case that Zola was likely to be sacked at the end of the season.
Zola said in a statement yesterday: "I am extremely disappointed to be leaving West Ham United. Over recent weeks, I have been the subject of various adverse comments, from within the club, which have been widely reported in the media. Despite what has been a very difficult period for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at West Ham.
"I would like to sincerely thank the players and my staff for their continued support, hard work and commitment."
Gold and Sullivan's hunt for a new manager has been hampered by their treatment of Zola, as potential candidates have been scared off by their apparent lack of support.
Steve McClaren turned down their advances last week for precisely that reason. Former England manager McClaren, who earlier this month led FC Twente to the Dutch title for the first time in their history, was the favourite of the West Ham board but he has chosen instead to take over at German club Wolfsburg because he did not fancy working for Gold and Sullivan.
Mark Hughes, who was sacked as manager of Manchester City last December, also rebuffed the East End club as he is holding out for a better job in the Premier League.
Zola's record as West Ham manager is one of the worst in the club's history. His team won just 23 of the 80 games under his charge, a win ratio of 29 per cent. This season West Ham finished fourth from bottom in the Premier League, five points above Burnley.
Despite the poor results, West Ham players stayed remarkably loyal to a manager who never criticised them in public. Parker made a point of running to celebrate with Zola on the touchline after scoring the winner in last month's crucial win over Wigan.
Contenders for the job
The former Israeli national team manager could well leave Portsmouth following Saturday's FA Cup final and has strong advocates within West Ham. He has the English experience that Gold and Sullivan want, despite not being British. Grant has also worked before with coach Steve Clarke, whose services have been retained at West Ham despite Zola's sacking.
After Steve McClaren turned them down, West Ham's owners are considering a move for another failed England coach in Hoddle, who has been out of management since walking out of Wolves in 2006. Despite an indifferent record as a manager at Swindon, Chelsea, England, Southampton, Tottenham and Wolves, Hoddle is still seen by some as a glamorous name.
The former West Ham defender has been a huge success since taking over as Croatia coach in 2006, winning 27 of the 38 games he has overseen. Bilic would be a popular choice with West Ham fans but he lacks experience of working in England.