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Shock as Mourinho quits Chelsea

Big-spending English football club Chelsea was left reeling on Thursday by the shock departure of star coach Jose Mourinho, who quit after a string of clashes with Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

sports Updated: Sep 22, 2007 15:48 IST

Big-spending English football club Chelsea was left reeling on Thursday by the shock departure of star coach Jose Mourinho, who quit after a string of clashes with Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

Former Israel coach Avram Grant, previously the director of football at Stamford Bridge, was put in charge along with Mourinho's former assistant Steve Clarke.

It was not clear if Grant, a close friend of Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich, will be manager on a long-term basis, but the Israeli will be in charge when Chelsea face champions Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The 51-year-old's promotion came hours after Mourinho's trophy-laden three-year reign at Stamford Bridge ended with the announcement that he was leaving the club "by mutual consent."

Mourinho's exit stunned Chelsea fans and several supporters' groups called on members to go to the west London ground to show "support and appreciation" to Mourinho, who managed to hammer out a settlement with the club late on Thursday.

Fans gathered at Stamford Bridge on Thursday evening and chanted "bring back the special one," while unfurling a banner reading "Mourinho: simply the best."

For his part, Mourinho said he was "proud" of his work at Chelsea, and described his time at the club as "a beautiful and rich period" of his career.

"I want to thank all Chelsea FC supporters for what I believe is a never-ending love story," Mourinho said in a statement published on Chelsea's website.

"I wish great success to the club, a club that will be forever connected to me for some historical moments. I wish the players happiness in football and in their family life."

The club added in a separate statement that it had reached "agreement on all contractual arrangements" with Mourinho, who had three years remaining on his five-million-pounds-a-year contract. Details of the settlement were not included in the statement.

The self-described "special one" paid a brief visit to the club's state-of-the-art training complex to the west of London on Thursday morning to say his goodbyes to the players he guided to five trophies in three seasons, before driving away for the last time.

Mourinho's time in charge ended in the early hours of Thursday morning, his fractious relationship with Abramovich having finally reached breaking point over the manager's failure to deliver the kind of flamboyant football craved by the Russian billionaire.

Manchester United's stylish reclamation of the Premier League title last season increased Abramovich's disillusionment with Mourinho's pragmatic approach and Tuesday's disappointing 1-1 Champions League draw with Norwegian side Rosenberg -- watched by fewer than 25,000 fans -- proved to be the final straw.

In a statement following news of Mourinho's departure, Chelsea said: "The key phrase here is that there was mutual agreement. Jose did not resign and he was not sacked.

"What is clear, though, is we had all reached a point where the relationship between the club and Jose had broken down.

"The reason the decision has been taken is that we believed the breakdown started to impact on the performance of the team and recent results supported this view.

"We did not want this to continue or affect the club further."

With hindsight, Mourinho's pre-match comments about the need to buy the best eggs to make the best omelette -- a clear dig at Abramovich's transfer policy -- were a clear signal that simmering tensions behind the scenes were about to boil over.

Mourinho came close to being ousted last season when Abramovich failed in an attempt to persuade former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann to succeed the Portuguese.

Although Grant has been put in the hot-seat now, a fresh move to lure Klinsmann, who is based in California, back to Europe cannot be ruled out.

Russia manager Guus Hiddink, who knows Abramovich well, and the former Monaco and Juventus boss Didier Deschamps, who briefly played for Chelsea towards the end of his illustrious career, have also been touted as possible long-term successors to Mourinho.

Grant's introduction to the backroom staff, initially resisted by Mourinho, had apparently been accepted by the Portuguese as part of a summer truce between him and the club owner.

But it now appears that tensions over Abramovich's desire to interfere in team affairs had continued to fester, culminating in a terse statement posted on the club's website overnight, followed by a longer one later Thursday.

Grant was recruited from Portsmouth partly with the aim of improving the performances of Andriy Shevchenko, whose presence in the Chelsea squad was a running sore in the the relationship between Abramovich and Mourinho.

First Published: Sep 22, 2007 15:48 IST