Roman Abramovich told Chelsea's squad what he expected of them in a private meeting at the club's training ground yesterday, just minutes after he had personally sacked Andre Villas-Boas, who finally paid the price for the team's desperate run of form.
In a signal that the club's Russian owner does not believe the fault lies entirely with Villas-Boas, he called a players' meeting at the training ground, from which all other Chelsea staff were excluded. Other than Abramovich and the players, only the Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum, chief executive Ron Gourlay and technical director Michael Emenalo were in the room.
It is understood the club board will put its faith in a manager of proven experience when it appoints on a permanent basis at the end of the season. Bringing back the club's former manager Jose Mourinho is not regarded as unthinkable. Pep Guardiola is another option, if he chooses to leave Barcelona at the end of the season.
Villas-Boas had clashed with many of his senior players, including Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba. There had been such huge opposition to him in the dressing room in recent weeks that the club felt that after Saturday's defeat to West Bromwich Albion they were left with no option.
Abramovich had met with Villas-Boas after the morning's training session and told him he was to be sacked. Even after a run of only two wins in the last nine games, the Portuguese coach was understood to be very unhappy with the decision and had been hopeful that, despite his team's struggles, Abramovich would keep faith with him. The young coach had not always enjoyed the most cordial relations with other members of the Chelsea staff, and had few allies left at the training ground by the time the decision came yesterday.
Roberto Di Matteo, the assistant who was imposed on Villas-Boas, was asked to take charge of the club to the end of the season. He has no loyalties to Villas-Boas and accepted the decision. The other staff to leave yesterday were first-team fitness coach Jose Mario Rocha and scout Daniel Sousa. Villas-Boas brought both with him.
The club made enquiries about Rafael Benitez taking charge until the end of the season but were unable to come to any agreement with the former Liverpool manager. It is anticipated that Di Matteo will stay in charge for the rest of the campaign, starting with tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round replay against Birmingham City.