Andre Villas-Boas said last night that he does not care what his players think of him, and that he retains the support of Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich. "They don't have to back my project," Villas-Boas said of his players. "It's the owner who backs my project." The Chelsea manager said that he enjoys Abramovich's "full backing".
After the 2-0 defeat at Everton last Saturday, Villas-Boas called his players in on Sunday, their day off, for a candid meeting. But any discord does not worry the manager, who insisted he was "sure" that Abramovich listens to him ahead of the squad.
"I'm really not concerned about it," Villas-Boas said of players' plots. "I have the full backing of the owner, and it's the owner [who makes] the decision on how further he wants to go with the running of the actual project."
There is certainly an acceptance from Villas-Boas that not all of the Chelsea players will buy into his project. "That is normal," he said. "The players don't put themselves behind the project because they don't know what the project is."
The players should realise, though, that current performances are not good enough. "I think everybody understands that we need more," Villas-Boas explained. "The running of results has not been impressive, so responsibility must be shared with players and management and that's exactly how it went."
Results have certainly not been impressively recently. Chelsea have won just two of their last 10 Premier League games, and none in their last four. They are now fifth, behind Arsenal on goals scored. Newcastle United are just one point behind them.
Villas-Boas warned, though, that it was the players whose futures were currently at stake. "I think players compete in the end, in the season, for their place and for their place towards the future in the team," he said. "So if you want to be the future in the team, you are competing to win over something against your colleague."
And next year's team might well be rather different from this year's. "I have told you that we have set out this team to try to win four trophies, believing in this team," he said. "Next year, it's another one because there are different ongoing situations regarding contracts which will have to be addressed, so that means different changes. Two players have already departed and further will depart in the future and won't make part of the project."
This project comes from the owner, and Villas-Boas is sure he will be able to continue its implementation next year. "I think the owner has full trust in me and will continue to progress with the ideas that we have," he said.
Villas-Boas insisted he was entirely comfortable with Abramovich's intensifying attention. "I think the owner is entitled to do whatever he wants," he said, claiming he would be relaxed if Abramovich wanted to come into the Chelsea dressing room after games.
Would more vocal support from Abramovich make his life easier? "One of the most funny things in football is the vote of confidence," the Portuguese said. "Whenever somebody gives the vote of confidence, it is the end. So it would not make any difference. You don't want that."
If there is one other potential problem for Villas-Boas, it is the supporters. The Chelsea fans at Goodison Park were unimpressed and let him know it. "They are the essence of football, if they demand, you have to respond," he said. "You have to be in tune to their demands."
Villas-Boas accepted there is only one way to make a point. "We need results really to put ourselves back on track," he admitted. Chelsea, well short in the Premier League, have two shots at cup competitions. Tomorrow lunchtime they host Birmingham City in the fifth round of the FA Cup, and next Tuesday night they travel to Napoli for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Chelsea have demonstrated their commitment to relocating to Earls Court by lodging objections to plans to use the site of the Earls Court exhibition centre for housing. Representatives of Abramovich said that a failure to include a new stadium in plans would not be the best use of the land. Earls Court will be demolished after it hosts volleyball at this summer's Olympics. Chelsea believe a stadium would be the best replacement.
"The provision of a world-class sporting venue attracting visitors and media from across the world to Earls Court and west Kensington should be clearly included in the [planning] principles and policies," said Stuart Robinson, Chelsea's property adviser. "A world-class sporting facility would build in the legacy of the Earls Court 'brand' in combination with the national and international 'brand' of [Chelsea FC]."