Antonio Conte has been sacked by Chelsea after months of speculation over his future and despite the Italian overseeing pre-season training earlier this week.
The 48-year-old had a year remaining on his contract, but has left the Blues 55 days after lifting the 2017-18 FA Cup in his final match in charge.
Former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri is reportedly set to replace Conte as boss and was rumoured to be in London on Friday. Chelsea refused to comment.
Chelsea Football Club and Antonio Conte have parted company. https://t.co/JOpsPD4dmN
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) July 13, 2018
Conte led Chelsea to the 2016-17 Premier League title in his first season as boss, reviving the side from a 10th-placed finish the previous campaign.
Finishing fifth in the league in 2017-18, missing out on Champions League qualification, and friction with the Chelsea hierarchy and influential players prompted Conte’s departure after two seasons.
A Blues statement read: “Chelsea Football Club and Antonio Conte have parted company.
“During Antonio’s time at the club, we won our sixth league title and eighth FA Cup. In the title winning season, the club set a then-record 30 wins in a 38-game Premier League season, as well as a club-record 13 consecutive league victories.
“We wish Antonio every success in his future career.”
Chelsea’s 64-word statement marks the end of a protracted process.
Uncertainty shrouded Conte’s position all last season and it had looked like he would depart in February, after successive losses by a three-goal margin to Bournemouth and Watford.
He clung on, but on Thursday reports emerged from Italy that the death knell had tolled on his reign.
Chelsea playmaker Cesc Fabregas and former captain John Terry both paid tribute to Conte, prior to the club’s official announcement.
Conte signed a three-year contract before becoming Chelsea head coach in July 2016, after leading Italy at Euro 2016.
His deal was improved, but not extended, in July 2017 after the title win, hinting at differences with the Blues hierarchy. Those differences proved to be irreconcilable.
Conte did little to hide his dissent over Chelsea’s transfer business in the summer of 2017 and winter of 2017-18, making thinly-veiled criticisms of “the club”.
Thank you Mister for another Premier League title and FA Cup. It wasn’t easy for me to convince you in the beginning but in the end I hope I did you proud! Good luck for the future. #CFC
— Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@cesc4official) July 12, 2018
There were also reports of unhappy players.
Playmaker Fabregas ‘liked’ a message welcoming Conte’s departure on Twitter, swiftly apologising and suggesting he had pressed the button in error before wishing Conte luck for the future.
Some pointed to the Diego Costa saga as evidence of Conte losing his way. The Italian last summer sent a text message to the striker saying he was surplus to requirements.
But Costa had wanted to leave for some time. Conte had managed the wantaway striker and then facilitated his exit, albeit not in the manner the club would have wanted.
There were a lack of endorsements from the dressing room in the days prior to the FA Cup final and captain Gary Cahill called for quick clarification from the club, which never came.
Chelsea beat a Manchester United side managed by Jose Mourinho – Conte’s predecessor as Chelsea boss – at Wembley on May 19.
Afterwards Conte said he was a “serial winner” who “can’t change”, citing his contract as he answered speculation it would be his final match in charge.
The end was expected to come in hours or days, rather than weeks.
Almost two months later Chelsea are looking for a 13th permanent boss of Roman Abramovich’s ownership, which began in June 2003.
Chelsea’s usual policy is to pay a sacked manager for the duration of their contract and, with no real top-tier jobs available, Conte could receive a salary from the Blues while out of the game.
This is arguably the toughest period of Abramovich’s ownership, with the Russian facing visa issues with the UK authorities.
Chelsea have also indefinitely postponed plans to rebuild Stamford Bridge in a scheme which would cost more than £1billion.
And the Blues face on-pitch challenges too, with domestic rivals strengthening.
Chelsea’s first game of pre-season is the July 23 friendly with Perth Glory.
The Blues leave for Western Australia next Wednesday and will hope Sarri is on board.
Sarri has replaced Conte as boss before, with a short-lived spell at Arezzo in 2006-07 before Conte was reappointed.
During three years with Napoli, Sarri’s side finished Serie A runners-up twice. He is yet to win a trophy in professional football.
Gianfranco Zola, the former Chelsea playmaker, could join Sarri’s coaching staff – if his fellow Italian is appointed.
The Blues have also been linked with signing Napoli’s Italy midfielder Jorginho.