Paulo Sousa left his position as head coach of Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian by mutual consent on Thursday, the club announced, after a run of poor results brought fears of relegation.
Just one win in the last 10 games has seen the big-spending Tianjin, who finished third last season under Fabio Cannavaro, drop to within five points of the relegation zone with six games of the season remaining. Even with Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato, the club have scored just two goals in the last seven matches.
At the same time, Tianjin exited the AFC Champions League in September, thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Kashima Antlers of Japan. Ever since that loss, the local media has been speculating as to whether the former Fiorentina and Swansea City boss, appointed in November 2017, would last until the end of the season.
After Sunday's 3-0 defeat at home to relegation rivals Chongqing Lifan, the one-time Juventus, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund midfielder publicly criticised his team.
"The desire of the players to win was not strong ," Sousa said. "The way we played did not reflect our training.
"Recently, the team's performances have not been good, we have lost some personnel."
The loss of Axel Witsel in August was a blow. Dortmund met the Belgian international's release clause fee and the midfielder never returned to Tianjin after helping Belgium to the last four of the World Cup. At the same time, French striker Anthony Modeste has been in a contract dispute with the club and has not played since Aug. 4.
Assistant coach Shen Xiangfu will take over on an interim basis starting with Friday's visit to third-placed Shandong Luneng. It is the first of three successive away games for Tianjin who face a difficult run-in.