Antonio Conte’s time as Chelsea manager looks like it could be nearing an end following reports he has been sacked, with midfielder Cesc Fabregas already paying tribute.
The 48-year-old Italian has a year remaining on his contract, but left the Blues on Thursday, according to Sky Italia. Chelsea refused to comment.
The rumoured departure comes 54 days after Chelsea lifted the 2017-18 FA Cup – and with the Italian having taken pre-season training earlier this week.
Conte, who is reportedly set to be replaced by former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, also led Chelsea to the 2016-17 Premier League title in his first season as boss.
Former Juventus and Italy boss Conte signed a three-year contract before becoming Chelsea head coach in July 2016.
His deal was improved, but not extended, in July 2017 after the Premier League win, hinting at differences with the Blues hierarchy.
Speculation had shrouded his position last season and it had looked like Conte might depart in early February after successive losses by a three-goal margin to Bournemouth and Watford but he saw the season out.
He had done little to hide his dissent over Chelsea’s transfer business in the summer of 2017 and winter of 2017-18, making thinly-veiled criticisms of “the club”.
There were also reports of friction with the players.
Playmaker Fabregas ‘liked’ a message welcoming Conte’s departure on Twitter, later apologising and suggesting he had pressed the button in error.
He then wrote on Twitter: “Thank you Mister for another Premier League title and FA Cup. It wasn’t easy for me to convince you in the beginning but in the end I hope I did you proud! Good luck for the future.”
With two trophies, Conte’s spell as boss will likely be considered a success.
Chelsea beat Manchester United on May 19 for Conte’s second trophy of the spell, after which he said he was a “serial winner” who “can’t change”, citing his contract as he answered speculation it would be his final match in charge.
A fifth-placed finish in the Premier League, missing out on Champions League qualification and ending the season 30 points behind winners Manchester City did little to strengthen Conte’s argument to stay on.
If the reports prove to be true, Chelsea would be looking for a 13th permanent boss of Roman Abramovich’s ownership, which began in June 2003.
There is a strong argument that this is the most turbulent time of Abramovich’s ownership.
The Russian’s visa issues, the indefinite halting of plans to rebuild Stamford Bridge and the challenge for consistent on-field success all point to difficult times ahead.
Chelsea’s first game of pre-season match is the July 23 friendly with Perth Glory in Western Australia.
And the Blues could have a new boss and a new midfielder by then.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis on Wednesday said “the Sarri affair is nearly at its conclusion”, alluding to the likelihood of the 59-year-old moving to Stamford Bridge.
And Italy midfielder Jorginho could also move to London from the Naples club.
John Terry, who left Chelsea after 22 years last summer following one campaign under Conte, paid tribute to the Italian.
Terry wrote on Instagram: “Thank you boss. Great man, Great manager. I wish you every success in the future.”