Carlo Ancelotti oversaw a warm-down training session at Chelsea's headquarters in the Surrey countryside yesterday, but his days as the club's manager seem to be numbered following their elimination from the Champions League by Manchester United.
A senior figure at the club said yesterday that he believes Ancelotti will be replaced in the summer after a disappointing season that has seen Chelsea also fail to defend their Premier League title.
Ancelotti is understood to accept that a manager is the one who is made to pay the price for a team's failure, but he is not in the mood to walk out on his £6m-a-year contract, which has one more year to run. Privately he seems resigned to his fate in a month's time and is content to see out the remainder of the season until a final decision is made. The club insist nothing will be determined until the summer. "It's business as usual," said a spokesman yesterday.
Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is the man who will ultimately decide Ancelotti's fate, and the Russian is notoriously unpredictable. There is a growing feeling among those close to the Chelsea owner that he will once again sack a manager who has failed to meet his exacting standards, although the lack of top-class alternatives may offer the Italian a reprieve. Guus Hiddink, whom Abramovich turned to three years ago, appears unlikely to be interested, according to those close to the Dutchman.
Abramovich recruited Hiddink when he sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008 but the former Netherlands and Real Madrid coach is currently employed by Turkey and has no intention of breaking his contract in the middle of a qualification campaign for the European Championship. A representative yesterday told The Independent there is no possibility that Hiddink will leave Turkey while they still have a chance of qualifying for the finals. They are currently in a fight with Austria and Belgium to finish second behind Germany in Group A, and play Belgium on 3 June.
"He will not break his contract with the Turkish federation. There is no chance of him sharing his job like he did before with Chelsea and Russia. So the only way he could leave is if he is sacked after a bad result," the representative said.
There remain those within the Stamford Bridge hierarchy who believe Ancelotti should be given another season, having been hamstrung in this one by injuries to Frank Lampard and John Terry, and Didier Drogba being struck down by malaria.
Others, however, do not believe Ancelotti has brought out the best in Chelsea's expensively assembled squad, particularly since the £50m signing of striker Fernando Torres in the January transfer window.
If Hiddink remains out of reach, the most obvious candidates to replace Ancelotti would include the former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, the former Netherlands coach Marco van Basten and the former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who has the advantage of having worked closely with Torres in the past.
Rijkaard, 48, won two titles and the Champions League before moving to Galatasaray in 2009, whom he left last October by mutual consent after the former Uefa Cup winners slipped to ninth in the Turkish league.
Van Basten, 46, coached the Netherlands for four years, leading the national team to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, before a failed season at Ajax. Benitez, 50, won the Champions League during six seasons at Liverpool before an ill-fated six-month spell at Internazionale. Andre Villas Boas, 33, who worked at Chelsea as an assistant to Jose Mourinho and has just won the Portuguese title in his first season with Porto is attracting wider attention.
Marcello Lippi, the 63-year-old former Italy coach, yesterday put his name forward. "I'd like to coach Chelsea – the Premier League fascinates me," the former Inter and Juventus manager said.
Only twice during Abramovich's eight years at Stamford Bridge have Chelsea finished the season without a trophy – and the manager was sacked on each occasion. Chelsea sit 11 points behind United in the Premier League. They face West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday while United play in their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
"We are not only playing for the manager or only for the owner, we are playing for the entire club, which is the supporters – we know who supports the club all over the world," said Chelsea's long-serving goalkeeper, Petr Cech.
"If we finish second of course the season will not be remembered for trophies, but you will at least remember that you finished second with your head up. We need to go and qualify ourselves to have another go in the Champions League next season."
Who could be Ancelotti's replacement?
Jose Mourinho Odds: 3/1
The "Special One", winner of five trophies with Chelsea from 2004-2007, left under acrimonious circumstances but Blues fans would more than welcome his return. Confirmed his "destiny will be in England, for sure", but has unfinished business with Real Madrid.
Rafael Benitez 8/1
The man who won the 2005 Champions League with Liverpool is out of work since being sacked by Internazionale. Can get the best out of £50m man Fernando Torres.
Didier Deschamps 10/1
The 42-year-old won the FA Cup as a player with Chelsea and led Monaco to a Champions League final in 2004, but lost 3-0 to Mourinho's Porto. Last season he guided Marseilles, another of his former teams as a player, to their first Ligue 1 victory in 18 years.
Frank Rijkaard 16/1
The Dutchman won back-to-back La Liga titles and guided Barcelona to Champions League victory in 2006, beating Chelsea along the way. He is currently available following a largely unsuccessful stint with Galatasaray.
Andre Villas Boas 20/1
Promising young Portuguese manager who worked under Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea, and Internazionale. He speaks fluent English and last week guided Porto to the Primeira Liga with five matches remaining. The 33-year-old is four months younger than Didier Drogba.
Michael Butler and Michael Lynch