LONDON • Jose Mourinho will "always remain much loved", according to Chelsea's parting statement on Thursday afternoon. So much so that, by that evening, they had already shut his club e-mail account.
When it comes to sacking managers, Chelsea know the drill. Roman Abramovich gave Mourinho more time because he was Mourinho.
"Yeah," said the right-hand man of a former Chelsea manager.
So, we have been here before. And yet we have not.
While Chelsea churning coaches is nothing new, the backdrop is exceptional. Football has never seen a period when so many top clubs and top managers are seeking a new direction at the same time.
First, Juergen Klopp to Liverpool and, yesterday, Bayern Munich announced that Pep Guardiola is leaving at the end of the season and will be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, with German television immediately reporting Manchester City as the Spaniard's destination.
City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are undergoing or considering managerial change.
And the question may soon arise at Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger contacted only until 2017.
Mourinho, Ancelotti, Guardiola and possibly Diego Simeone and Massimiliano Allegri are moving.
It is the ultimate managerial merry-go-round, a Tinder for oligarchs, billionaires and sovereign wealth funds. Swipe, consummate, swipe, discard. How to keep track?
Mourinho hopes United fancy him, as does - or did - Guardiola, who also liked Arsenal but City are making the strongest play.
Ancelotti knocked back Chelsea's come-on for him to be interim manager. The Blues will make one last (and their 4,000th) bid for Guardiola but know rejection is near-certain and believe Simeone can be theirs next season.
The latter has also been linked with City. Allegri, who took Juventus to the Champions League final, is a fallback target for several big clubs. Manuel Pellegrini, for so long doomed by City's Guardiola courtship, has senior admirers at Chelsea and could come into their thinking.
On Saturday, Mourinho's name was chanted both at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.
United and Chelsea meet next week. A statement released on behalf of Mourinho said, during his unemployment, that "he will not be attending any high-profile games".
But, if he has any of his old sense of mischief left, he will be there.
Mourinho hopes that United see beyond the wreckage of losing nine out of 16 league games and past the touchline bans, vituperative post-match interviews and Dr Eva Carneiro.
He has completed five Premier League seasons and been champion three times. United say Premier League performance is now "80-20" their priority and, if they really mean it, logic suggests they should appoint him.
Mourinho also needs employers to believe he will fit - and not fight - with their structures. He has already dined with Roma president Rosella Sensi. Ramon Calderon, if he beats Florentino Perez in Real Madrid's presidential elections, would try and re-appoint him.
Chelsea will work on Simeone, who is wedded not just contractually (until 2020) to Atletico Madrid, but also culturally and emotionally.
He would cost £15 million (S$32 million) to extract - but Abramovich has influence at Atletico.
Simeone, an opposing coach said, has made Atletico "a big team that runs like a small team" and straddles between Mourinho-ball (strategic, counter-attacking) and Klopp/Guardiola high-intensity pressing.
The Argentinian has propelled Atletico via development and coaching. Look away Tottenham, but, if Simeone stays in Spain, would not Mauricio Pochettino be Chelsea's perfect fit?
THE SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON