Milan (AFP) - Carlo Ancelotti's reign at feuding Napoli came to an abrupt end on Tuesday as the veteran coach was sacked despite a 4-0 win over Genk sealing their spot in the Champions League last 16.
The 60-year-old is set to be replaced by his friend and former AC Milan player Gennaro Gattuso, 41, later on Wednesday.
Napoli finished second in Group E, one point behind Liverpool, to break a nine-match winless run that came amid dressing room unrest and friction between the club, Ancelotti and the players.
"Napoli has decided to relieve Carlo Ancelotti of his role as first team coach," the Italian side said in a brief statement on twitter two hours after the game.
The former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain coach had been defiant after the game.
"Resignation? I have never resigned in my life and I never will," he said.
The club have been in turmoil this season amid a row between club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis and the players after a series of disappointing results.
The players refused to go on a training camp after a 1-1 draw with Red Bull Salzburg in their Champions League group.
De Laurentiis responded by freezing payments of players' wages, with stars including Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, Allan and Lorenzo Insigne reported to be linked with January exits.
The club sit seventh in the Italian top flight on 21 points, 17 points behind league leaders Inter Milan and, more worryingly, eight behind fourth-placed Cagliari, who hold the final spot for next season's Champions League.
In 18 months Napoli have gone from Maurizio Sarri's slick style of football to a team scrambling to save their season.
Hopes had been high with the arrival of the much-travelled and trophied Ancelotti on a reported salary of six-million-euros ($6.6 million).
He joined in July 2018 boosted by three Champions League titles as a coach, two with AC Milan and one with Real Madrid.
"I would like Ancelotti to stay here for many years, like (Alex) Ferguson at United. He is a winner and stability is good for our project," De Laurentiis had said.
The southern giants are trophyless since the days of Argentina great Diego Maradona, when they won their only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 and the UEFA Cup in 1989.
Ancelotti guided the team to a runners-up finish in Serie A last season, when they missed out on the Champions League last 16 on goal difference to eventual winners Liverpool.
But they are without a win in seven Serie A games since October 19.
For Ancelotti, who finished with a record of just 37 wins in 73 matches at Napoli, it was another failure after being sacked by his last club Bayern Munich.
A 1-1 draw against Udinese last weekend sealed Ancelotti's fate.
"With your head held high," was the first reaction from the Ancelotti camp from his daughter Katia on Instagram.
Captain Lorenzo Insigne, who had clashed with Ancelotti several times, wrote this on Instagram: "Thank you mister, it was an honour to have worked with you and your staff. In these two years I have known a special person. I wish you all the best!"
Gattuso should lead his first training sessions on Tuesday afternoon, according to media reports.
Ancelotti had paid tribute to Gattuso in a letter in Gazzetto Dello Sport to mark his former player's 40th birthday last year.
"There is a need for your passion, your character, your spirit of sacrifice, to overcome the obstacles," Ancelotti wrote.
"You were my warrior on the pitch and I've never see you give up, you've never left the pitch with a clean shirt and that's what I've always admired of you."
In his playing days, Gattuso spent just over a year at Rangers before winning two Serie A and two Champions League titles in 13 years at AC Milan.
He also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006.
Gattuso missed out on the Champions League places on the final day last season to Inter. But his successor Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven games.
For Napoli the future remains uncertain.
They do not have the financial resources of Juventus or Chinese-owned Inter Milan.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, has been linked him to a return to England to either Everton or Arsenal.
During his two years at Chelsea, he won the Premier League and FA Cup.