Roman Abramovich is searching for his eighth Chelsea manager in eight years after yesterday jettisoning Andre Villas-Boas after just eight months in charge.
Villas-Boas became the latest Blues boss to be sacked by the ruthless Russian after spectacularly failing to live up to his billing as the brightest young coach in the game.
The 34-year-old lost his job less than 24 hours after Saturday’s Premier League defeat at West Brom, which left the Blues fifth.
It is understood Abramovich delivered the news personally, the billionaire owner, chief executive Ron Gourlay and director Eugene Tenenbaum taking Villas-Boas aside after training yesterday to inform him of his fate.
The trio then told assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo that he would be in charge until the end of the season before informing the players who were seemingly so instrumental in Villas-Boas’s downfall.
Di Matteo’s appointment ended speculation Rafael Benitez would be parachuted in until the summer but the former Liverpool boss remains the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Villas-Boas.
Chelsea said in a statement on their official website: “Andre Villas-Boas has parted company with Chelsea Football Club.
“The board would like to record our gratitude for his work and express our disappointment that the relationship has ended so early.
“Unfortunately, the results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season.
“The club is still competing in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup, as well as challenging for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and we aim to remain as competitive as possible on all fronts.
“With that in mind, we felt our only option was to make a change at this time.
“With immediate effect, Roberto Di Matteo has been appointed first-team coach on an interim basis until the end of the season.”
Villas-Boas becomes the latest Chelsea boss to receive a multi-million-pound pay-off, having already cost £13.3m to buy out of his Porto contract, part of £28m forked out in managerial changes last summer.
He had been under mounting pressure after overseeing what was threatening to be Chelsea’s worst season since Abramovich bought the club almost nine years ago.
A run of just five wins from the last 16 games saw the Blues slide out of the top four, while they remain in real danger of crashing out of both the Champions League and FA Cup in the next week and a half.
Brought in to revamp an ageing squad after winning a quadruple at Porto last season, Villas-Boas’s reign was dogged by reports of the kind of dressing-room revolts that previous Chelsea managers have said led to their own downfall.
Abramovich, who reportedly hand-picked Villas-Boas last summer when Guus Hiddink had been the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Carlo Ancelotti, appeared prepared to be more patient with the 34-year-old than previous bosses.
The Russian seemingly recognised the difficulties in overhauling the squad and the playing style at Stamford Bridge.
But, as when Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked three years ago, it was fear of not qualifying for the Champions League that prompted Abramovich to act.
Having repeatedly insisted he had the owner’s full backing during the recent run, Villas-Boas appeared to acknowledge the writing may be on the wall during the past week and a half.
An interview with a Portuguese radio station saw him admit for the first time he could lose his job, a possibility he refused to shy away from after Saturday’s defeat at The Hawthorns.
He said: “Will this result increase pressure on me? You have to agree with it. We are in the same position, fifth, but we are now three points behind Arsenal.
“It is a big, big disappointment. Every defeat Chelsea suffers piles more pressure on any manager.”
Villas-Boas insisted it would not help his position being given public backing from Abramovich.
He said: “I don’t think so.
“There is no need for the owner to back us after such a poor display.”
Villas-Boas, who on Friday insisted he would “never” quit Chelsea, added: “Am I the right man for the job? Yes. I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t think that.”
A late goal from central defender Gareth McAuley rightly settled the issue in Albion’s favour at The Hawthorns where Chelsea’s Petr Cech was the busier of the two goalkeepers throughout.