Chelsea's bitter battle with Antonio Conte could take another twist -after the Italian was left "disgusted" over his sacking as the club put the finishing touches to Maurizio Sarri's appointment as their new head coach.
Despite news of Conte's departure breaking and players paying their own tributes on social media, Chelsea did not confirm his exit as lawyers haggled over the terms of his pay-off.
Chelsea sacked Conte and almost his entire staff at the club's Cobham training ground after the Italian took a morning session yesterday, with Sarri now on the brink of taking over. Of Conte's staff, fitness coach Paolo Bertelli may stay on while goalkeeping coach Gianluca Spinelli could remain if Thibaut Courtois stays at Chelsea. Carlo Cudicini is still at the club and he is likely to help Eddie Newton take training today. But Sarri's appointment is now set to go through and he is expected to be joined by Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola and Giovanni Martusciello, who he worked with at Empoli.
Neither Chelsea nor Conte's representatives would comment on the nature of his sacking, but Italian sources described him as being "disgusted" by the way it has been handled. It is understood that he felt his situation should have been dealt with a greater degree of respect, given that he won the Premier League title and the FA Cup in his two seasons in charge.
Having been left in the dark over his future for the entire summer, Conte resumed pre-season training with the squad on Monday and even led a session yesterday morning before the news was delivered and players were informed there would no longer be an afternoon workout. His final flashpoint had come last week, when, having planned for a Monday start, Chelsea's players were called in for fitness testing on Saturday and Sunday. Conte attended, but remained in his office over the weekend.
Normal practice is for Chelsea to pay their sacked managers under the terms of their contract until they find alternative employment.
With Conte prepared to take time off to get his full pay-off, that could be as much as ??9 million.
Should it transpire that a mutual agreement has not been reached, then lawyers could well argue that Conte has a case for unfair dismissal. But Chelsea could equally claim he was the architect of his own downfall for his actions away from the pitch.
Conte's relationship with his bosses broke down 12 months ago even though he was handed a pay rise for winning the League. He wanted greater control on the transfers and would have also attempted to instigate an overhaul of the playing squad had he stayed on for his final 12 months.
He fell out with Diego Costa, sending him a text saying he had no future at the club, and may have frozen out David Luiz and Willian. Chelsea have also been worried that Eden Hazard would seek to leave if Conte saw out his contract.
That ultimately convinced owner Roman Abramovich that he could not risk the squad imploding, and work has been going on to secure Conte's replacement.
Cesc Fabregas posted a message on Twitter that read: "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."
The Telegraph, London
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