ANTONIO CONTE has left his position as Chelsea head coach, with Maurizio Sarri now primed to take over.
Conte’s future has been the subject of plenty of speculation for the past 12 months with his departure seemingly imminent since the end of the season.
Sky Sport Italia now claim the former Juventus gaffer has been relieved of his duties, days after he begun pre-season training with Chelsea’s non-World Cup players, and handed a mega pay-off.
Conte’s reported departure opens the door for Sarri to take his place in the Stamford Bridge dugout ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
Sarri emerged as Chelsea’s No 1 managerial target towards the end of the season and he has already been replaced at Napoli by former Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti.
Chelsea chiefs have since been locked in talks with Napoli for Sarri, with the Serie A side demanding compensation as he is still under contract.
Express Sport understands a £4.5m deal to free Sarri from his Stadio San Paolo contract has been discussed over the past week.
And it now seems an agreement has been reached, with Antonio Conte on his way out of Chelsea – although the club are refusing to comment.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis revealed earlier this week that Sarri was close to swapping Naples for west London.
“The Sarri deal is in the homestretch, it depends on him,” said De Laurentiis.
“I’ve laid down my conditions. It’s all in the hands of lawyers. Jorginho? We said to ourselves: ‘If Jorginho has any requests, we’ll take them into account’.
“For that, I’ll have to apologise to Manchester City. However, if the player would rather live in London than Manchester, I can understand that.
“If Chelsea are paying him even more, I can understand that too. Jorginho and Sarri together again? Jorginho would go to Chelsea regardless of Sarri.”
Chelsea are facing the prospect of handing over a bumper pay-out to Conte and the coaching staff he won the Premier League title and FA Cup with.
Conte is line to receive close to £9m, having agreed a pay rise when he put pen to paper on a new contract last summer.
That deal just kept Conte tied to Chelsea until the end of June 2019 following disagreements with chiefs over the club’s transfer activity.
Chelsea are yet to make any signings this summer but De Laurentiis has suggested Napoli midfielder Jorginho has snubbed Manchester City to head to London.
“These offers did not start from Chelsea, but from Manchester City,” added De Laurentiis.
“As a matter of fact, I will apologize to Khaldoon [Al Mubarak], because I found a deal with Khaldoon 15 days ago.
“He called me, we spoke on the phone and I said, ‘Ok, I don’t agree with you on A, B, C.’
“‘Let’s solve the situation the two of us’, he told me. And we did it, we solved it.
“However, if for personal reasons I won’t get into, the player prefers to live in London rather than in Manchester, I can understand him.
“If Chelsea pay him more, I can understand it too. So I can just apologize to Khaldoon.
“But it does not depend on me. If Jorginho moves to Chelsea, my agreement with [Roman] Abramovich does not depend on Sarri becoming their next manager.”
Despite Jorginho’s impending switch, Sarri’s arrival at Chelsea is believed to be partly dependent on the Blues agreeing not to raid Napoli for the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Maria Callejon.