REAL Madrid last night paved the way for Jose Mourinho to complete a widely anticipated return to Chelsea by announcing the manager is to depart the club next month by mutual consent.
Mourinho will leave Real following their final match of the season on 1 June, after agreeing an exit strategy with president Florentino Perez that, crucially, will see him become a free agent next month.
That means Chelsea would not have to pay millions of pounds in compensation to release the Portuguese from his contract and removes the one remaining obstacle to his imminent appointment at Stamford Bridge.
“We have decided to bring our relationship to an end at the end of the current season,” said Perez.
“The club and manager agree that the timing is right to bring our relationship to an end. On behalf of the board of directors would like to thank Jose Mourinho for all his hard work. The team have improved in his three years and we wish him all the best.”
Mourinho has become an increasingly isolated figure in the Spanish capital this season as his side have failed to retain their league title and has repeatedly hinted a return to west London is on the cards.
The 50-year-old won five major trophies during three seasons at Chelsea before leaving suddenly in September 2007, but has since mended his relationship with the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich.
Midfielder Frank Lampard, one of those who flourished under Mourinho’s reign, yesterday praised the former Porto and Inter Milan boss as the greatest manager he had played under.
“Mourinho was the best. For me he was. He brought my confidence to a level it had never been,” said Lampard, who is set to play under his mentor again, having agreed a new one-year contract.
“He made me believe I was better than I was at the time. I thought I was a decent player, but he said to me ‘listen, you can really get to the top’ and he made me believe it. I tried to take it on and do it.
“He galvanises people. His own self-confidence reflects back on his teams. He did that to me personally. Tactically he’s fantastic. He’s very astute. As a team he sets you up brilliantly.
“He gets the best out of players and gets this togetherness that I’d never known until he came to the club and haven’t seen again since.”
ALL CHANGE: TOP MANAGERS ON MOVE
This summer looks set to herald a particularly frantic round of big-name managerial appointments, with some of the most coveted jobs in European football up for grabs and a number of high-profile managers on the market, including former Blues bosses Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti, and ex-City chief Roberto Mancini.
Europa League success and the clinching of third place, and with automatic entry to the Champions League group stage, has ensured that the Spaniard will leave Chelsea on a triumphant note. Napoli appear to be the likeliest suitors at this stage, though an agreement could be held up by Chelsea’s tour to the US, where they face Manchester City in two friendlies this week.
The Italian has announced his desire to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer, despite landing the French league title, in order to replace Mourinho at Real Madrid. Big-spending PSG insist they will hold Ancelotti to the remaining year of his contract, while former England coach Fabio Capello has been mooted as a candidate if the ex-AC Milan boss is eventually granted his wish.
Ancelotti’s departure could pave the way for Mancini, sacked last week by City 12 months to the day after winning the Premier League title, to take the hot-seat at the Parc de Princes. However, ambitious and wealthy Monaco, who have just returned to the top-flight, have been mentioned as rivals for a man whose trophy-winning record is unlikely to leave him short of offers.