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LONDON (AP) — Jose Mourinho's "palpable discord" with Chelsea players forced the club to abruptly end his second spell as manager on Thursday with the team languishing just above the relegation zone only seven months after winning the Premier League.
Mourinho's departure came 2 1/2 years after his return to Stamford Bridge and only four months into a new four-year contract signed after winning his third league title with Chelsea.
Despite a succession of humiliating results, the 52-year-old coach had been defiantly insisting he was the right man to oversee the team.
But Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich decided he could not risk keeping the fans' favorite in the dugout as the mid-way point of the season approaches with Chelsea only a point above the relegation zone.
"It was a decision taken to protect the interests of the club," Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said. "Whilst there is huge sentiment for the individual who has done so much for the club, the fact of the matter remains that Chelsea Football Club is in trouble.
"The results are not good. There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players. And we feel it was time to act. The owner is forced to make what was a very tough decision for the good of the club."
The worst-ever start for a defending champion team in the Premier League was compounded on Monday by a 2-1 loss at surprise leader Leicester. After the match, Mourinho said he was "betrayed" by his players — exposing a dressing room rift.
"This is essentially the same group of players who won the league and the League Cup last season. They did in style and they did it by showing commitment and by sweating tears and blood for the club when needed," Emenalo said in a Chelsea website interview.
"The players have a responsibility to go out and prove everybody wrong and show a certain level of commitment ... to try to get the club up the league table."
The personal conduct of the self-styled "Special One" was also proving damaging to Chelsea, with Mourinho engaging in public spats with referees, a television rights holder and even the club's doctor over the last year. Chelsea is engaged in an ongoing legal battle with Dr. Eva Carneiro after she was publicly criticized and then demoted following Mourinho's opening-day outburst.
Now it is Mourinho leaving Chelsea, with Russian billionaire Abramovich preparing for his 10th managerial appointment since buying the team in 2003 and transforming its fortunes with a huge injection of cash.
Emenalo indicated that one of the "quality coaches embedded" at Chelsea would be in temporary charge for Saturday's home match against Sunderland, with the club "working vigorously and actively" to appoint Mourinho's successor.
First hired by Chelsea in 2004, the Portuguese ended a 50-year league title drought and defended the trophy among other successes before losing a power struggle three years later with Abramovich.
He was brought back in 2013 by Abramovich in an attempt to restore unity to the club following the divisiveness caused by the appointment of Rafa Benitez as interim manager, who was regularly jeered by fans.
Mourinho presented himself as a figure transformed from the fiery character who fell out with Abramovich in 2007, but it was not long before the combativeness returned. He survived a first trophyless season back at Stamford Bridge before cruising to the title in May.
Although Mourinho has won every honor in English soccer, he never managed to win a European trophy in either of his two spells at Chelsea. He won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004 and with Inter Milan in 2010, before and after his first tenure at Chelsea.
"All at Chelsea thank Jose for his immense contribution since he returned as manager in the summer of 2013," Chelsea said. "His three league titles, FA Cup, Community Shield and three League Cup wins over two spells make him the most successful manager in our 110-year history."
Mourinho was an unsuccessful player whose big break in coaching came when he was hired as an interpreter for English coach Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.
Robson took Mourinho with him to Porto and his influence increased as he took on coaching responsibilities. The duo moved to Barcelona for the 1996-97 season, and Mourinho remained at the club under Louis van Gaal following the Englishman's departure.
Mourinho returned to Portugal but failed to win any titles during stints as a senior coach at Uniao Leiria and Benfica. That changed in his first full season at Porto, winning the league, Portuguese Cup and UEFA Cup in 2003.
It was the Champions League win in 2004 that convinced Chelsea to hire him for the first time.
He became the third coach to win the European Cup with two teams, with success in the 2010 final with Inter Milan. He then moved on to Real Madrid.
While employed by Inter and Madrid, Mourinho appeared to forget his clashes with the English media, referees and Abramovich as he started openly flirting with Chelsea during a fraught final season in the Spanish capital.
The love affair with Chelsea was rekindled but it proved too difficult to sustain before a second split on Thursday even though fans had been chanting his name throughout the recent turmoil.
"The club wishes to make clear Jose leaves us on good terms and will always remain a much-loved, respected and significant figure at Chelsea," Chelsea said in a statement. "His legacy at Stamford Bridge and in England has long been guaranteed and he will always be warmly welcomed back to Stamford Bridge."
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