Jose Mourinho will face further questions about his future at Chelsea after today's Premiership match against Wigan Athletic amid increasing signs that his time as manager will come to an end this season.
Without a win in their last three League games and six points behind Manchester United they desperately need a victory, but whatever happens on the pitch at Stamford Bridge this afternoon will take place against an astonishing backdrop of uncertainty and disunity at the club. A highly damaging rift has developed between Mourinho and his Portuguese backroom staff and what is being termed an increasingly influential " Dutch-Russian connection", led by the club's chief scout, Frank Arnesen, and youth coach, Ruud Kaiser.
Mourinho's friends believe he has been undermined over transfer dealings, with several intended targets vetoed, and has also been told to make changes to his staff. It is believed that Mourinho, who is intensely loyal, was urged to sack his assistant manager Steve Clarke, for example, and replace him with a coach who could work more directly with Andrei Shevchenko. Mourinho gave the idea short shrift.
The £31m striker's poor form is central to Mourinho's frustrations. "He has just come on holiday," one source said of the Ukrainian, who is a personal friend of Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, but has apparently not taken to Mourinho's work ethic.
Mourinho is understood to be seriously considering his future at Stamford Bridge, even though he has won two League titles and the club are still in the running for all four major trophies this season.
Last night Mourinho, who once again did not hold a pre-match press conference, spoke to Chelsea TV and responded to yesterday's report inThe Independent that he is ready to quit. "We have to forget the stories, we have to forget what the press is saying and we have to concentrate on our Chelsea because Chelsea belongs to all of us," Mourinho said in a message to the club's fans.
"We all love Chelsea. The fans love Chelsea for a long, long time. I love Chelsea just for two and a half years, but I love Chelsea. I want to give my best to Chelsea every day and I want to win always the next game and the next game is against Wigan. We have to be together to win that game."
Mourinho stopped short of pledging his future to Chelsea, but added that it was "easy" for him to deal with the scrutiny he is under. " For me, no problem," he said. "I don't read the stories but I know about them because people tell me. Of course the echo arrives. But I am cool and I am not important, the club is important. I don't change my mind. I am focused on my job and I try always hard to motivate people around me. I'm self-motivated, always at the top. I want to win and if results are not what we want, that is even a bigger motivation to fight."
Sources close to Mourinho said last night the manager had chosen his words carefully. "The problem is not with the club," said one source, who stressed that Mourinho regarded the club's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, as an ally but that there was tension with Arnesen and with some of Abramovich's Russian associates, although not with the billionaire himself. But sources close to Abramovich said that there was a growing feeling a change of manager might be beneficial. "He acts by intuition," one said of Abramovich. "And he is usually right."
It is believed that Chelsea representatives may already have sounded out Guus Hiddink, the Russian national team coach, and the Juventus coach, Didier Deschamps, who was considered before Mourinho's appointment. Both men have resisted the overtures.
Mourinho has grown frustrated at his team's form and the injuries and suspensions his squad have suffered. It remains unclear when the captain, John Terry, will return from his back injury while Joe Cole is likely to miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture to his foot. Added to that is the manager's unhappiness at the sale of William Gallas last summer. He insisted that, if the defender was sold, Chelsea should hold on to Robert Huth but the German also left, joining Middlesbrough. The counter-argument is that playing Gallas out of position, as Mourinho did, helped to make the player leave.
The tipping point appears to have been Chelsea's refusal to sanction a swap deal with Shaun Wright-Phillips moving to Aston Villa in return for the Czech striker Milan Baros. Mourinho also wanted the Deportivo La Coruña defender Jorge Andrade, but that deal was vetoed, as was a move for Standard Liège's Oguchi Onyewu, even though he would have cost just £1m. Instead Arnesen is believed to have tried to foist the PSV Eindhoven defender Alex on Mourinho, but that was resisted.
Now Mourinho has been told to get on with the players he has and that he will not be allowed to bring in anyone new during the transfer window. That provoked his outburst following the League Cup semi-final draw at Wycombe Wanderers on Wednesday.
Yesterday Mourinho returned to the theme when he said: "We are not playing especially good. We are getting good enough results to survive. I cannot do miracles. The players do their best in the positions they are playing and in the situations they are involved in."
Chelsea remain understrength with Terry, despite Chelsea's early prognosis that he would play today, recuperating from his back operation, Petr Cech still out, and Ashley Cole suspended. But Ricardo Carvalho and Didier Drogba return, as does Arjen Robben.
There has also been talk that Mourinho should employ a Russian-speaking motivational coach to work directly with Shevchenko. Mourinho was happy to have Shevchenko in his squad, but he has now become totally disillusioned with him.
Mourinho wanted to increase the European "stature" of his team and that is why Chelsea also signed Michael Ballack to try to win the Champions' League. Ballack still has the manager's full backing.
Mourinho's unease has grown in the last two weeks. It led to him meeting his agent, Jorge Mendes, to air his grievances. The agent has been told to inform Mourinho at the end of the season if any job opportunities are available. Internazionale, who would top his £5.2m-a-year salary, and Real Madrid, head the queue of interested clubs.
It may well be that, with some victories, the current crisis will blow over. Chelsea have been here before with Mourinho, who has often felt isolated in the past. But this timematters appear much more serious.
Arnesen the £5m star-spotter seeks leading role
By Glenn Moore
The ambition of Frank Arnesen, 40, was illustrated when, as an 18-year-old, he left Fremad Amager, the small-town club he grew up at in Denmark, to join Ajax. Arnesen, a competitive midfielder, went on to play in Spain and Belgium before returning to the Netherlands to win the 1988 European Cup with PSV Eindhoven - albeit he missed the final through injury. He also won 52 caps for Denmark.
In 1991 Arnesen moved into management at PSV, as assistant coach to Bobby Robson, but switched to become general manager three years later. At PSV he discovered Ronaldo, and helped recruit the developing talents of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Jaap Stam.
After a decade in charge he was lured to Tottenham to act as general manager alongside new coach Jacques Santini and assistant Martin Jol. Within months Santini left amid indications he had been squeezed out by the Dutch duo. Arnesen himself moved on after a year when he was poached by Chelsea, who were forced to pay £5m compensation to Spurs. At Chelsea he has overseen the development of the academy, a role which led to his being accused of " tapping up" by the BBC's Panorama investigation into football last year, an accusation he denied.Reuse content