Chelsea chiefs have confirmed that friction between manager and players led them to sack Jose Mourinho less than seven months after he steered them to the Premier League title.
Technical director Michael Emenalo said owner Roman Abramovich had been forced to act by alarming results and “a palpable discord between manager and players”, adding: “This club is in trouble.”
The champions are expected to reappoint their former coach Guus Hiddink as caretaker for a second time while they work on hiring a long-term successor, such as Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone, next summer.
Chelsea emphasised on Thursday that Mourinho, the most successful manager in the club’s history, had departed two and a half years into his second spell in charge by mutual consent.
But Emenalo, a former Nigeria international and confidant of Abramovich, appeared to confirm that the club had initiated the split in an interview with their in-house television channel.
“While there is a huge sentiment for the individual who has done so much for the club, the fact remains that Chelsea is in trouble, results are not good, there obviously seems to be a palpable discord between manager and players, and we felt it was time to act,” he said.
“The owner was forced to make a very tough decision for the good of the club. Make no mistake about it, Chelsea – one of the biggest clubs in the world – is one point above relegation in the Premier League and that’s not good enough.
“Anyone with any kind of affiliation to the club can understand that this club is in trouble, and that something needed to be done.”
Mourinho publicly turned on his players after Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Leicester, a result that left Chelsea 16th in the table, declaring that they had “betrayed him”.
Emenalo rejected the notion that the players had engineered Mourinho’s exit, saying: “It’s very easy to make that kind of inference but it’s not one that the club accepts.”
He added: “The club is working vigorously and actively to make sure that a managerial appointment is taken care of as soon as possible.”
Vastly experienced former Holland and Real Madrid coach Hiddink is widely expected to return to the club and reprise his role as caretaker manager until the end of the season.
The Dutchman, 69, led the Blues to the FA Cup in a fleeting, three-month spell in charge in 2009 after former Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked during his first season in charge.
He has been unemployed since an ill-fated spell with his national team was terminated in June, after just 10 games, and could even take charge for Saturday’s visit of Sunderland.
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone is believed to be among the club’s target to take charge next summer, with Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, and former Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti tipped to go elsewhere.
Mourinho’s exit is expected to cost Chelsea up to £10m and was confirmed on Thursday afternoon, after the Portuguese had taken training.