José Mourinho was sacked as the Chelsea manager on Thursday afternoon because of a “palpable discord with the players” according to the club’s technical director, Michael Emenalo.

Guus Hiddink is primed to return to Stamford Bridge on a caretaker basis until the end of the season and, in the longer-term, Chelsea have designs on a clutch of managers, chief among them Diego Simeone of Atlético Madrid. There is also a long-standing interest in Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola, together with the Italy manager, Antonio Conte.

Mourinho was dismissed in a 10-minute meeting with the chairman, Bruce Buck, and the director, Eugene Tenenbaum – moments after he had finished his Christmas lunch at the staff’s annual party, which was attended by all the first-team squad.

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The most successful manager in the club’s history departed after a dismal run of Premier League form, which has seen the defending champions drop to one point above the teams in the relegation zone.

Mourinho went on the offensive after Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Leicester City – which was a ninth defeat in 16 league games this season – when he accused some of the players of betraying his work. In effect, he had admitted they had stopped listening to him.

Mourinho, who returned to the club in 2013 for a second spell, had signed a four-year contract, worth £250,000-a-week, or £13m-a-year, in August.

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