Stuart Gray last night became the first casualty of Dejphon Chansiri’s ambitious plans to bring Premier League football back to Sheffield Wednesday.
The respected Owls head coach had only been in the job 18 months, first rescuing the Owls from relegation to League One when he succeeded Dave Jones in December 2013 before finishing 13th last term – their highest league position since 2009
But last night Wednesday owner and chairman Chansiri wielded the axe on 55-year-old Gray.
“This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but one that I believe is in the best interests of our club ahead of the 2015-16 season,” said Chansiri.
“The club will be taking a new direction next season and it is my belief that the appointment of a new head coach will help achieve my desire of bringing Premier League football back to Hillsborough.
“I would like to thank Stuart for his hard work and diligence on behalf of Sheffield Wednesday and wish him all the very best moving forward.”
Last night, bookmakers were tipping former West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce as 6-4 favourite to take over from Gray.
A host of former Owls players have also been linked, including John Sheridan (20-1), Paolo Di Canio (16-1) and Benito Carbone (12-1).
Carbone has already declared his interest in the job, claiming he is the man to get Wednesday back in the top flight.
“I think Wednesday have to be back in the Premier League,” Carbone said earlier this week.
“They are a big, big club – one of the first clubs in England.
“History says they must be in the Premier League and I am sure I am the man to get them back there.
“With this manager, they have never had the risk of being relegated. He has done well. But they are missing something to go on the next step.
“They need more motivation and quality. I can bring that – and it wouldn’t even have to cost a lot of money.”
Carbone had a brief spell at Leeds as sporting director last year, and the 43-year-old has managed in the lower leagues in his homeland.
Chansiri has set a target of 2017 to reach the Premier League, and originally gave his backing to Gray when he first took over at Hillsborough.
But the Owls’ owner clearly believes Gray is not the head coach who can deliver a promotion-challenging team next season.
The timing of the decision has come as a surprise – over a month after the Championship season ended – and the new boss will have to move quickly to have an input into player recruitment.
But it suggests Chansiri already has a new head coach in mind, and a replacement could be swiftly announced.
Gray’s departure means two of the three original three-man sporting director committee which was appointed by Chansiri back in April have now gone.
Adam Pearson left after just three weeks, to take up a position with Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, meaning Gray’s exit leaves only Glenn Roeder of the original trio.
Pearson had been due to advise Chansiri on business-related issues, while Roeder would focus on football matters.
With Roeder a former Premier League manager, speculation has already started that he will step in to Gray’s shoes.
Thai businessman Chansiri – who bought the Owls from Milan Mandaric for £37.5m in March – has since recruited Paul Senior and Jonathan Hill as members of the sporting committee.
Rumours have been circulating over the last 48 hours since it was claimed former Owls defender Dan Petrescu had turned down the chance to replace Gray.
Petrescu, who played for Wednesday in the early Nineties, joined Romanian side ASA Targu Mures this week with club president Bogdan Mara claiming his new manager had rejected an approach from an unnamed Championship side.
Mara said: “He received an offer from abroad, from a club in the Championship.
“It was a concrete offer today to go to England, but he refused.
“The contract would have been good, but he did not want to go to a mediocre team, where it is a fight just to stay there.”
Gray is the fourth Championship manager to leave his job since the season ended, after Brentford’s Mark Warburton, Leeds United’s Neil Redfearn and Derby’s Steve McClaren.
Gray was very popular in the Owls’ dressing rooms, but Wednesday won just five games at Hillsborough last season.
Midfielder Kieran Lee, who signed a new deal to stay with Wednesday this week, said at the time: “All the lads have a lot of respect for Stuart Gray.
“He was a big reason why I wanted to stay here.
“I have a good relationship with him and I enjoy playing for him.
“I think it’s important for the players that he’s here.”