LONDON • Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in Chelsea's history, was yesterday sacked following a woeful run of results.
It was the second time that the Premier League club have parted ways with the Portuguese, who had been dismissed at the end of his previous spell in 2007.
Mourinho led Chelsea to a Premier League and League Cup double last season, after returning to the club in 2013.
But they are currently one point above the relegation zone after nine defeats in 16 games.
"Chelsea Football Club and Jose Mourinho have today parted company by mutual consent," read a club statement yesterday.
"All at Chelsea thank Jose for his immense contribution since he returned as manager in the summer of 2013.
Will Chelsea or the Manchester clubs be able to lure Guardiola?
Yes: Nobody has wanted Pep Guardiola for longer than Roman Abramovich, something that would doubtless appeal to anyone's pride. Guardiola would not admit it but he would also take great pleasure in accepting a job that Jose Mourinho, his great rival, was removed from.
No: Chelsea are not popular in Catalonia. There is a belief among Guardiola's representatives that working at Stamford Bridge would be the death knell of any hopes he has of returning in any capacity to the Nou Camp.
The Blues are also unlikely to feature in next season's Champions League.
Yes: The history of the club would appeal to his traditionalist side - he views United, like Bayern and Barcelona, as being part of Europe's true elite - while the chance to restore them to their former glories would satisfy his ego. United are thought to be monitoring him.
No: Whether the club would decide to dispense with Louis van Gaal to bring in Guardiola this summer is open to debate. The club's chaotic structure and a lack of talent count against it, though.
Yes: His most ardent suitors for some time and home to Txiki Begiristain, the City technical director, a close friend, and Ferran Soriano, whom he also knows from his Barcelona playing days. The duo were recruited, at least in part, because City felt they provided the key to getting Guardiola.
No: Guardiola's long-term plan is thought to centre on becoming president of Barcelona. There is a worry that an association with one of Europe's nouveaux riches could affect that. While money may not be an issue, the Catalan may be put off by the English club's comparative lack of history. THE TIMES, LONDON
"His three league titles, FA Cup, Community Shield and three League Cup wins over two spells make him the most successful manager in our 110-year history.
"But both Jose and the board agreed results have not been good enough this season and believe it is in the best interests of both parties to go our separate ways.
"The club wishes to make clear Jose leaves us on good terms and will always remain a much-loved, respected and significant figure at Chelsea."
It is understood that Chelsea's technical director Michael Emenalo had already compiled separate shortlists of both short- and long-term candidates to replace the 52-year-old on Wednesday, when it also became apparent that Bayern Munich were resigned to losing Pep Guardiola at the end of the season.
Guus Hiddink is the favoured candidate for the caretaker position.
Unlike Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti is not interested in a second spell at the club, not least because of his ambition to move to Bayern as the replacement for Guardiola.
The latter will make an official announcement about his future next week but various German, Spanish and British media reports have suggested that he has decided to leave.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich spent six months courting him during his sabbatical after leaving the Nou Camp in 2012 before he joined Bayern in 2013. But he is likely to be disappointed yet again, particularly with Chelsea unlikely to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Manchester City remain Guardiola's most likely destination, given links with Txiki Begiristain, their director of football.
With the 44-year-old seemingly out of reach, Chelsea's preferred choice in the long term is Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone.
Emenalo's shortlist also includes Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and Sevilla's Unai Emery.
In sacking Mourinho, however, Chelsea have lost the manager with the best win rate of managers who have been in charge of at least 100 Premier League games.
He won 140 out of 212 matches - or 66 per cent, drawing 44 and losing 28.
In his first spell at Stamford Bridge, he guided Chelsea to their first league title in 50 years.
He would add a second top-flight trophy, along with an FA Cup and two League Cups.
But he could not retain the league title in his second spell. If anything, Chelsea's opening game this season against Swansea foreshadowed a tumultuous campaign.
Down to 10 men and being held 2-2 at home, last year's star player Eden Hazard went down injured.
Chelsea's doctor Eva Carneiro and head physio Jon Fearn immediately attended to the Belgian, sparking a row between the club's medical staff and Mourinho.
Mourinho has dropped high-profile players this season, including Diego Costa, skipper John Terry and midfielder Cesc Fabregas. His attack on his players in the wake of Monday's loss at Leicester City is believed to have stemmed from his suspicion that one of them had leaked details of his team selection as well as his anger at their poor performance at King Power Stadium.
It is understood that Mourinho deliberately used the word "betrayal" in three post-match interviews to convey his feeling of being undermined, as a result of his belief that Porto gained knowledge of his starting line-up before last week's Champions League tie.
Chelsea won the game 2-0 to reach the round of 16 and took some of the pressure off Mourinho. But only briefly.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON