LONDON (Reuters) - Avram Grant and Steve Clarke took charge of Chelsea on Thursday following the spectacular exit of coach Jose Mourinho in the early hours of the morning.
An open letter to fans published on Chelsea’s Web site (www.chelseafc.com) said Mourinho had not been sacked but that his relationship with the club had “broken down” despite attempts by all parties to resolve their difficulties.
“Early this morning we announced Chelsea and Jose Mourinho had agreed to part company by mutual consent. The key phrase here is there was mutual agreement. Jose did not resign and he was not sacked,” the letter stated.
It added: “The reason the decision has been taken is we believed the breakdown started to impact on the performance of the team and recent results supported this view.”
Grant and Clarke took their first training session on Thursday morning after Mourinho had visited the training complex in Cobham to say farewell to his players.
The club did not confirm whether their positions in charge were on a long-term basis although said they had “full support”.
News of the end of Mourinho’s successful three-year reign provoked a reaction from Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
His spokesman said in a statement: “The prime minister is a football fan and is someone who enjoys watching Premiership games so he knows Mr Mourinho has a fantastic record of success, that he has made a significant contribution to British football in a short period of time and that he is also one of the great characters of the game.”
Supporters were gathering at Stamford Bridge to demonstrate against Mourinho’s exit later on Thursday.
Former Israel coach Grant and former Chelsea player Clarke could hardly face a tougher task in their first match when they travel to Old Trafford for a Premier League clash with champions Manchester United on Sunday.
“The club is delighted that in Avram we have an experienced man who can come in immediately at this difficult time to help deliver our objectives,” Chelsea said in their statement.
“In Steve we have a Chelsea man and he will be a crucial part of the management team going forward,” it added.
Grant, 52, is Chelsea’s director of football while Clarke, 44, is an ex-Chelsea and Scotland fullback who has been working as assistant coach under Mourinho.
Clarke played 421 matches for the west London club between 1986 and 1998, the fifth-highest total in their history.
Mourinho left Chelsea by “mutual consent” just six games into the season, the club said.
Baltemar Brito, Mourinho’s assistant, fitness coach Rui Faria, chief scout Andre Villas and goalkeeping coach Silvino Louro, were all expected to leave.
The confirmation of Mourinho’s exit in the early hours of Thursday followed media reports that senior players, including captain John Terry, had received text messages from their Portuguese manager informing them he was leaving.
Mourinho, who was contracted until 2010, was hired by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich in 2004 with a brief to break Manchester United and Arsenal’s domination of English soccer and make Chelsea the best club in Europe.
The former Porto boss made a stunning impact in his debut season by winning the title, Chelsea’s first since 1955, and charming the media with his sharp sense of humour.
The self-styled “special one” repeated the feat in 2006 but failed to make it a hat-trick last season when the club finished second to Manchester United.
Mourinho also won two League Cups and the FA Cup for Chelsea and had the remarkable distinction of never losing a home league game during his glittering reign.
However, European success eluded him and probably hastened his downfall. Chelsea twice lost to Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals — last season on penalties.
Rumours began to surface last year that Abramovich was losing patience with Mourinho and was demanding a more attractive brand of soccer.
The signing of AC Milan’s Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, a close friend of Abramovich, also appeared to cause friction between coach and owner.
Chelsea have begun this season poorly by their own high standards, although they did top the table briefly at the end of August.
However, a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa was followed by a dull 0-0 draw at home to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday that left them fifth in the table.
Mourinho bemoaned his luck in typical fashion.
“You cannot make an omelette without eggs,” he said, referring to injured internationals Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack.
Tuesday’s disappointing 1-1 Champions League draw at home to Norwegian outsiders Rosenborg Trondheim in front of just 25,000 unhappy fans proved the final act of a remarkable period in Chelsea’s history but Mourinho walks away with a tremendous record.
Of the 120 league games he took charge of, Chelsea won 85, drew 25 and lost just 10.
Additional reporting by Clare Lovell in London