Real Madrid have sacked coach Carlo Ancelotti after the world's richest club by income failed to win major silverware this season and, according to the local media, Napoli's Rafa Benitez is the favourite to succeed him.
"The board of directors have decided this evening to relieve Carlo Ancelotti of his duties," president Florentino Perez told a news conference on Monday. "It was a very difficult decision... but we have not come to Real Madrid to take easy decisions but to take decisions that we believe are the best for an institution that is a reference point around the world," added the construction magnate.
"The demands are huge and we believe it is the right moment to give fresh impetus that will allow us to win more titles and reach our optimum competitive level in a new phase."
The club will announce a successor next week, Perez said, and the local media said former Liverpool and Chelsea boss Benitez, who once had a stint as a Real youth team coach, is the front runner to replace Ancelotti.
Others linked with the job are German Juergen Klopp, who has quit Borussia Dortmund, and former Real player Michel who has had spells running the B team at the Bernabeu and clubs including Getafe and Sevilla.
Italian Ancelotti, who had a three-year contract that was due to run until the end of next season, led the club to a record-extending 10th European crown and a King's Cup triumph in his first term in charge in 2013-14.
This season, however, they were eliminated in the Champions League semi-finals by Juventus while Barcelona won their fifth La Liga title in seven years. Real also lost to Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the King's Cup in January.
Real won the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup, but Ancelotti's failure to win any of the three trophies that make up the traditional treble was deemed unacceptable.
Perez's decision came despite strong public backing for Ancelotti from players including top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, midfielder Luka Modric and forward James Rodriguez.
Ancelotti told the Italian daily Il Giornale on Monday that he was suffering from cervical stenosis and will travel to Vancouver for an operation.
The condition, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck area or upper part of the spine, has caused tingling in his hands and was part of the reason he planned to take a year off if Real sacked him, he told the paper.
After the club announced his sacking, Ancelotti said on his Twitter feed: "I leave with the memory of two fantastic years... thank you to the club, the fans and my players."