By Rory Smith
Andre Villas-Boas will not even contemplate the prospect of failure for Chelsea tonight. Failure to beat Valencia, failure to maintain his club's proud record of qualifying from the group stage of the Champions League each time they have entered the competition. The future, the Portuguese admits, extends no further than 9.35pm this evening.
"We cannot speak about [what might happen if Chelsea fail to qualify]," said the Portuguese. "We have to focus on the game. I have not thought about what happens afterwards. My concentration is on the game, not what is going to happen after the game."
Villas-Boas's steadfast refusal even to discuss what defeat, or by extension victory, might mean for him and for the club he joined five months ago illustrates how high the stakes are at Stamford Bridge this evening.
Daniel Sturridge, one of the prime beneficiaries of the Portuguese's reign, maintained yesterday that Chelsea's players believe Villas-Boas will see out his contract, but seasoned observers of Roman Abramovich's rule know there are no such certainties.
"The mood among the players has been great," said the striker. "Everyone's happy and bubbling as a squad. Even after the losses we've had, we've always had the confidence in ourselves and the manager. The attacking style he's trying to implement in the squad does work. In the future you'll see that it works. We know he'll be the manager for the next three years."
Lose – or manage only a score draw – tonight, and that prospect will seem more remote than it does already. Crucial victory at Newcastle United achieved, Villas-Boas was able to insist yesterday that his squad agree with his decision to banish Alex and Nicolas Anelka to the youth team and the transfer list; lose to Valencia, and the benefit of the doubt is lost too.
"The players are not being treated like criminals," Villas-Boas insisted yesterday. "The group accepted the decision. These are top professionals and we will continue to give them everything they need."
Villas-Boas's populist appeal to the club's fans to exhibit that they, too, retain their faith, likewise, depends on perspective. Should Valencia attain the result they need, then it will look little more than a desperate, cynical tugging of the heartstrings. "The fans can have a massive impact," said Villas-Boas. "I know the atmosphere can be raised here, just like we did in the 4-2 against Barcelona [under Jose Mourinho in 2005]."
That they are in this position at all, Villas-Boas accepts, is their own fault. "We have ourselves to blame," he acknowledged. "The small details got away from us at Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen." There would be far fewer questions about his own future if they had succeeded on those occasions, of course. That future, as he admits, begins at around 9.35pm.