Chelsea on Friday confirmed the sacking of manager Antonio Conte after a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League last season, which failed to secure the club a spot in the Champions League.
The Italian had led the London-based club to a Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season as manager last year but could not replicate the highs in 2017-’18. Chelsea did, however, win the FA Cup last season, beating Manchester United 1-0 in the final.
Chelsea had also won a record 30 out of 38 matches in the Premier League in 2016-’17, including a club-record 13 consecutive wins. However, the six-time champions but could manage only 21 Premier League wins last season, as the club missed out on a Champions League spot.
The former Italy national coach returned to take training this week but the writing was on the wall and the drawn out process was reportedly due to how much compensation the club should pay Napoli for his likely successor Maurizio Sarri.
“We wish Antonio every success in his future career,” the club said in a short statement on its website.
Conte leaves with the best win percentage 65.1% of any of Chelsea’s managers in the Premier League era.
Former banker Sarri, 59, will be Chelsea’s eighth manager inside a decade as Russian owner Roman Abramovich has never shown a sentimental side to his nature regarding them, no matter the trophies they won the preceding season as Roberto di Matteo found just months after delivering Abramovich’s holy grail the Champions League.
Conte – who had a year to run on his contract – is seen to have contributed to his own demise by falling out both with the players and the board as the sheen of the title victory quickly disappeared.
His intense training methods angered senior players and he alienated the board with disparaging treatment of Spanish striker Diego Costa and constant carping over the club’s failure to replace top players with those of similar ability.
‘Thank you Boss’
However, while present players may have had issues with Conte, former Chelsea legend John Terry, who left after the league title winning campaign had nothing but praise for him.
“Thank You Boss,” Terry posted on Instagram alongside a photo of the two of them holding the Premier League trophy. “Great man, Great manager. I wish you every success in the future.”
Sarri has been favourite to succeed his compatriot after impressing as manager of Serie A side Napoli, who have replaced him with former Chelsea handler Carlo Ancelotti.
Sarri, who split his time between banking and playing football before he took up coaching aged 40, has not won a major honour in three years at Napoli but has guided the club to finishes of second, third and second again.
The chain smoking former Empoli manager – who will have to restrain himself on the touchline in England where smoking is banned – was named Serie A Coach of the Year in 2016-17.
The main reason for the prolonged saga has been compensation.
Conte is due a reported £9 million if he remains out of work for the season and with the major jobs such as Real Madrid and the Italy national post – which he occupied for two years till after Euro 2016 – filled it is likely he will sit the year out.
Napoli are also expecting compensation of around £4.5 million for Sarri, who is under contract even though he is no longer their coach.
Sarri is believed to have agreed to bring former Chelsea favourite Gianfranco Zola – whose managerial career has stalled after a series of failures – along as one of his backroom staff.
Sarri has also presented a list of players he would like to sign.
They reportedly include Brazil-born Italy international midfielder Jorginho from Napoli, CSKA Moscow’s Russian playmaker Aleksandr Golovin and Italian defender Daniele Rugani from Juventus, the side that edged Napoli in the Serie A title race.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this report stated that Chelsea had a trophy-less season in 2017-’18. This is not true and the error has been rectified.