The text message on Tuesday night said it all. As he watched Jose Mourinho's face, with its fixed smile, following the appalling draw at Stamford Bridge against the Norwegian minnows Rosenborg, the mobile phone of one of Roman Abramovich's associates beeped. "He's wearing his death mask" the message read.
The decision to, finally, part company with Mourinho had already been taken by the Russian billionaire. Whether the Portuguese walked or was sacked, and he is insisting to friends that he quit, was immaterial. He would now go. And it was always going to be, as it turned out, an intuitive decision.
The final straw was not the 17,000 empty seats for the opening Champions League tie that evening, though that embarrassing sight simply confirmed to Abramovich that his instincts were, as usual, right. No, the decision was really taken following the dispiriting goalless stalemate against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, in which Mourinho reacted to a goal wrongly disallowed by ripping out a television monitor, berating the officials and – once again – blaming everyone but himself for Chelsea's lack of potency.
Later that evening the "golden circle" around Abramovich was buzzing with speculation that, finally, Mourinho's days were numbered, even if no-one predicted quite how rapidly things would unravel. By Sunday morning the mood had hardened even further.
Mourinho, Abramovich and Chelsea had been here on several occasions before but, like a doomed marriage, the time had finally come to say "enough is enough". Mourinho knew it and had come to the same conclusion. Abramovich knew it and, crucially in a relationship in which the pair have barely talked, neither man had to say anything to each other.
By Monday afternoon Mourinho was giving his Champions League press conference at Stamford Bridge. He appeared perfunctory, brisk and batted off the usual questions about Andrei Shevchenko, injuries and the owner's expectations. Then he came out with his extraordinary analogy about omelettes and eggs – a saying in Portugal – and not having good enough players at his disposal. It was a deliberate statement, an inflammatory message to Abramovich. And like previous public utterances, such as the aggressive claim last season that Mourinho didn't care whether he was sacked because he would walk away a millionaire, it did not go unnoticed.
After Tuesday's debacle, a draw that felt like a defeat with the players booed off the pitch, Abramovich descended from his executive box, crossed the pitch and went into the home dressing room. He shook hands but his body language made clear that he was certainly unhappy – and not just because two points had been dropped in Group B. Before the Russian arrived Mourinho's own address to the players had lasted barely two minutes although he did chose to single out Salomon Kalou, a young striker still in awe of his surroundings, for criticism. In a rare exchange it is understood Abramovich made his own displeasure known to Mourinho.
The Chelsea players had the next day, Wednesday, off. Mourinho was at the flat near Chelsea Wharf that he had bought in the summer, but matters were moving quickly. He, like the players, staff and directors, was due to attend a screening for the premiere of a new film, to be released as a DVD, called Blue Revolution, which was a behind-the-scenes look at his three seasons at the Bridge. It would prove to be his wake.
Mourinho arrived at the Vue Cinema on Fulham Broadway, a short walk from the stadium, for the showing with the players – although not all attended – arriving in a coach. Chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Peter Kenyon were also expected to join them but remained at the Bridge to hold discussions with Eugene Tenenbaum, another Chelsea director but, in reality, the most powerful man on the board as he is Abramovich's lieutenant. The two men had spoken in London earlier in the day while Buck and Kenyon, despite their positions, were completely in the dark as to what was really happening. It merely confirmed that Tenenbaum, as Abramovich's conduit, held the power.
Soon after the film finished at 9.30pm, Mourinho would briefly meet the trio. But first, at around 6pm and on his way to the cinema, he started to send text messages of his own. He was, at last, following through the threat that he first made in March 2005 – a threat that was revealed by The Independent. Mourinho was to quit as Chelsea manager. The messages are the clearest indication that he did indeed walk rather than was sacked. They were sent to a few friends but, later on, he would contact a handful of senior players: John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, who he is closest to, and Ricardo Carvalho. He claimed he had had enough, wished them all good luck for the rest of their careers – and told them he would be at the training ground in Cobham, Surrey, the next morning to say farewell.
It wasn't until 1.20am that the Kenyon, Buck and Tenenbaum finally left the Bridge. By then Mourinho had offered his resignation, which had been accepted. His reaction was said to be one of relief. Mourinho has demonstrated his willingness to walk away before – famously tearing off his winner's medal seconds after his Porto team had been crowned champions of Europe. He has never been one to outstay his welcome anywhere – his success at Porto came over the space of just two and a half seasons.
Yesterday morning Mourinho was driven in a sleek, black Audi 4x4 to Cobham and spent around 45 minutes at the vast complex, clearing his desk and saying his emotional goodbyes – including addressing the entire first-team squad. After Mourinho, and his Portuguese coaching staff bar assistant Steve Clarke, departed Kenyon and Avram Grant – who later took training – spoke.
By now Mourinho's agent, Jorge Mendes, was on a flight to London to discuss the severance package. Mourinho had accepted on Wednesday night that he would not receive the full payment of his contract – which runs until 2010 and is worth more than £15m – and Mendes said before his departure that he expected negotiations to be concluded quickly.
In the meantime Mourinho returned to his flat but, soon after 4pm, was driven to the Bridge to discuss his departure. He also met Terry, along with his agent Aaron Lincoln, and Carvalho. As his car pushed its way past supporters, on-lookers and reporters, the now former Chelsea manager raised a single finger – to indicate that he was still No 1, the Special One.
Such defiance is natural to him. This was, after all, the man who breezed into Chelsea and declared: "Please don't call me arrogant because what I am saying is certainly true. I am a special one." At first his confidence and self-belief endeared him to Abramovich. This was someone unfazed by expectation, charismatic, youthful. The owner even took to riding on the team coach and watching training from the dug-out.
That soon stopped. When he succeeded Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho made it perfectly clear that he would be high-maintenance, that he would be demanding, that he would expect a lot in return for the intense commitment he himself shows. But he couldn't take criticism. Cracks started to appear over his reaction to the Uefa inquiry following the retirement of the referee Anders Frisk and the claims Mourinho made in Barcelona.
He felt, in the wake of the storm, unsupported. Mourinho was even exasperated when he read the comments from Buck on the back page of this newspaper the day after the Uefa ban was announced, in which the Chelsea chairman declared the hearing "full and fair". The manager didn't know the chairman well and believed he was not a big enough figure in football.
He threatened to quit. In the end he got a bumper new contract from Abramovich – who was forced to fly in and sort out the crisis, even if many at Chelsea felt it was all simply a ploy to get a pay rise and the club's owner is no fool. Mourinho had stamped his foot and Abramovich expected him to deliver. Trophies came but there was an unease about playing styles, while Mourinho's manner started to grate. Kenyon accused the media of chasing "ghosts" but that was errant nonsense.
By the mid-point of his second season Abramovich began to cool on Mourinho, especially after another failure in the Champions League, and by the end of the last campaign they were not even talking. That relationship began to deteriorate in the autumn of last year and soon Abramovich was not making his customary appearances in the dressing room after games. By this time Mourinho had railed against the world claiming, variously, that Arsenal dictated the fixture list, that Sky TV had a vendetta against Michael Essien, that officials were colluding and that, in summary, all of England hated Chelsea.
Then there were his shaky relationships with some of his players, from Arjen Robben to Joe Cole through to Michael Ballack and, most constantly, Shevchenko. Meanwhile the arrival of Frank Arnesen, as director of youth and development, caused another schism and that of Grant yet another.
Indeed Chelsea is a club riven with factions. From the Russians and Israelis, to the Dutch (and the Dane Arnesen) including Abramovich's personal scout Piet de Visser through to the Portuguese. It doesn't help that Abramovich allows such jostling for position to occur.
It became increasingly vicious. Results and performances did not help, while Chelsea's playing style became yet more mundane. Each European Cup campaign ended in frustrating failure. By January, Mourinho had resolved to go while Abramovich considered sacking him. An uneasy peace was brokered, if not resolved, with Grant arriving and Mourinho promising to change. But it would never happen.
He's going nowhere: Nine months of strenuous denials
'He and I sat down this week, and I left him knowing that he's committed to Chelsea and we are committed to him.' Asked if he was 100 percent sure that Mourinho would still be with the club at the start of next season, Kenyon replied: 'Why not? There's nothing happening that would suggest that he isn't.'
Peter Kenyon, January 2007
'We know what is going on, there are no dramas. There is no rift at the club.'
John Terry, April 2007
'Jose's got a contract until 2010 and we're not going to sack him. He's got the full support of the board and that's really important. I would like to be clear on one thing. We support Jose as manager and given the level of speculation, where we are now is an even bigger achievement.
'Whatever you have read or heard, no list of candidates has been drawn up, no one has been offered the job. So let's put that to bed straight away.
'Hopefully, the speculation will stop and I think it should. As far as we are all concerned what is most important is that it is business as usual at Chelsea and we are putting all our energy into winning the three remaining trophies.'
Kenyon, April 2007
'I want to stay – and if Chelsea had wanted to make a change, they would have done it by now'
Jose Mourinho, July 2007
'There's loads of speculation that if we don't win Jose gets fired, but that's not the way we think.'
Kenyon, September 2007Reuse content