Revealed: The inside story of how the axe fell on Jose Mourinho at Chelsea
Jose Mourinho joined his Chelsea players for their annual Christmas lunch on Thursday - hours later he was sacked
JOSE Mourinho joined his Chelsea players for their annual Christmas lunch at the club’s Cobham training ground just hours before he was sacked, but there was little festive spirit to go around.
Rather than pulling crackers and telling bad jokes over their Christmas turkey, the Chelsea players sensed something was up from Mourinho’s sombre mood after he had taken a downbeat Thursday training session in which he sported a newly shaved head and stubble.
But it was not until just before 2pm when a Chelsea player, who had stayed behind later than many of his team-mates, spotted members of the club’s hierarchy and rumours started circulating that Mourinho’s time as manager was up.
At the same time players were exchanging text messages speculating on what might be going on, Mourinho was informed of his sacking by chairman Bruce Buck and director Eugene Tenenbaum in a meeting that lasted only 10 minutes.
Virtually all of the players had left Cobham by then and they did not receive any official announcement from the club before word spread between team-mates and staff members via telephone, text message and over WhatsApp. Some former Chelsea players got wind of Mourinho’s dismissal before the current squad.
Mourinho stayed at Cobham to clear his office desk for around two hours after getting the news before being driven off the premises in his Jaguar, presumably never to return. His second coming was over in the most dramatic circumstances.
The Leicester City defeat proved to be the tipping point and Telegraph Sport can reveal Mourinho accused his players of betrayal three times around that game.
Mourinho shocked reporters by claiming his players had “betrayed” his work after the 2-1 loss, but the attack did not come as a surprise to the squad. The Portuguese also warned his team against “betrayal” in the tactical meeting ahead of the Leicester game and used the word again during the half-time team talk at the King Power Stadium.
He had become obsessed with the fact an old Porto contact told him that his former club knew of his plans to drop Cesc Fabregas before last week’s vital Champions League match at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea won the game, but Mourinho was convinced he had at least one player in his squad working against him and it was not the first time this season the 52-year-old felt information was being leaked, whether on purpose or by accident.
A few months earlier, Mourinho had spoken to players of the need to be careful about what they told their agents and fixers after numerous stories had appeared alleging he had fallen out with various members of his squad.
Mourinho believed pieces of training ground gossip were being twisted against him and was also worried that players were innocently talking to outsiders about selection issues that were then getting out.
It was in October, when the former Real Madrid manager hit out at the “rats” around the Blues camp as he refused to give out any team news ahead of the Southampton defeat. He also became more guarded over how he set his team up during training, so that players were not so sure over who would be starting games.
In truth, however, Mourinho’s problems started a long time before October when a total of 10 players decided they wanted to leave Chelsea immediately after the club had won the Premier League title so convincingly.
On the outside Chelsea looked destined to enjoy years of success under Mourinho, but there were sources around the club predicting a meltdown.
While it was no great surprise that fringe players such as Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Filipe Luis, Juan Cuadrado, Mohamed Salah, Victor Moses and Nathan Ake wanted to play first-team football elsewhere, it was concerning that Diego Costa, Willian and Oscar fancied moves away.
Chelsea did not let Costa, Willian or Oscar go, but Mourinho felt he needed to secure some major summer signings to be confident of making a successful title defence. The fact only Radamel Falcao and deputy goalkeeper Asmir Begovic arrived before the first day of the Premier League season was a source of great frustration and contributed to his dark mood from the off.
Mourinho was also concerned by what he had seen on Chelsea’s post-season and pre-season tours, despite the fact he had given his squad an extra week off during the summer as reward for their title success.
Teenage midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek was not the only Chelsea player to miss the team bus or turn up late for a meeting during the end-of-season trip to Thailand and Australia.
Relaxed attitudes were evident in America during pre-season, when Mourinho was so disgusted at a training game in which one of his group of players fell three goals behind that he called off the practice match entirely. It was also evident that Costa had not reported in an acceptable physical state after a summer of excess.
Some members of the Chelsea squad complained of still suffering the effects of jet-lag from the tour of America by the time they lost the Community Shield to Arsenal and there was a feeling of chaos inside the dressing-room ahead of the first Premier League game of the season against Swansea City.
Players had been left confused by Mourinho’s decision to start with what was considered a reserve team in the final pre-season game against Fiorentina, only to throw all of the big guns on before the hour. Captain John Terry had been among the starters and feared he would be left out of the Swansea opener.
All the frustration and anger of poor pre-season performances and failed summer transfer bids for Everton defender John Stones manifested itself in Mourinho lashing out at club doctor Eva Carneiro for running on to the pitch to treat Eden Hazard against Swansea.
Carneiro was subsequently relieved of her first-team duties and privileges by Mourinho in a move that sparked a seemingly never-ending wave of criticism and negative publicity, and eventually led to the doctor’s departure from Stamford Bridge that is still not settled.
It is too easy to point at the fall-out over Carneiro as the beginning of the end for Mourinho, but there is no doubt that his actions shocked Chelsea players and members of the board.
Fears over his behaviour grew as, having effectively got rid of Carneiro, Mourinho turned his attention towards the officials and the Football Association as he lashed out over bad results and questionable decisions.
Mourinho was hit with a £50,000 fine and a suspended stadium ban for claiming referees were “afraid” to give Chelsea decisions after the defeat to Southampton. He later branded the decision a “disgrace.”
Worse was to follow, however, as Mourinho was hit with a one-game stadium suspension for his extraordinary reaction to Nemanja Matic’s red card in the defeat to West Ham United. He twice refused to leave referee Jon Moss’s dressing-room at Upton Park and accused the official of being “f***ing weak” during the half-time interval before being sent to the stands.
Serving his ban, Mourinho watched the defeat to Stoke City at the beginning of November from the Crewe Hall Hotel, where the team had stayed the previous night.
That proved to be a small moment of enlightenment, as Mourinho accepted appeals from Chelsea staff to stop the attacks on officials and the FA, and keep the focus on his team and the need to improve performances.
But Mourinho could simply not inspire any consistent form out of his players, despite trying both the carrot and the stick approach with Hazard and Diego Costa.
Having dropped and criticised Hazard earlier in the season, Mourinho held a heart-to-heart with the Belgian the day after the West Ham defeat and agreed to play him in his favoured number 10 role.
Hazard’s performances improved, but he has now gone 27 games without a goal and Mourinho very much left it to interpretation whether or not the forward had been sufficiently injured to substitute himself against Leicester.
Costa had escaped punishment for returning for pre-season training overweight and had been the one player to avoid the axe up until the trip to Tottenham Hotspur. His reaction was to toss a bib in the direction of his manager and retreat to the team bus minutes after the final whistle.
He won his place back in the team after having a one-on-one chat with Mourinho, but Costa was still a shadow of his former self in front of goal against Porto and Leicester, and has netted just seven times since January.
Costa’s drought has coincided with former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku passing the 50 goals mark for Everton. With Chelsea desperately needing goals and looking for a striker in January, Lukaku’s form has caused frustration that he was not given more of a chance by Mourinho.
The feeling inside Stamford Bridge was that Moruinho could have done more to encourage Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, who is currently outperforming Belgium team-mate Hazard, that they could eventually become first-team regulars at Chelsea.
Similarly, Mourinho showed little patience with Cuadrado and Salah, who have impressed in Italy, and, contrary to his promises, never made a convincing attempt to properly integrate 19-year-old Loftus-Cheek into his team.
Loftus-Cheek only has 18 months to run on his contract and Chelsea chiefs had been concerned that Mourinho’s treatment of the highly-rated midfielder threatened to make negotiations over a new deal particularly difficult.
Ultimately, though, it was quite simply results that did for Mourinho. When owner Roman Abramovich backed him in the form of a club statement that also made it clear there must be an improvement, Chelsea were in 16th place in the table. Two months on and the Blues are in exactly the same position, just one point above the relegation zone.
Mourinho is understood to have confided in friends that nothing he tried was working and that was clearly a view shared by Abramovich and the Chelsea board. Christmas dinner probably never tasted quite so sour.