The Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, has spoken out against continued speculation about the future of the club's manager, Claudio Ranieri.
After he was the subject of more newspaper comment at the weekend with suggestions that he would be sacked in the summer, Ranieri called on Kenyon and Chelsea's billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, to break their silence, and Kenyon, though unwilling to comment on the substance of the rumours, issued a statement yesterday evening.
"This wave of unprecedented and continuous media speculation about Claudio's future and false links to other managers is unhelpful to our manager and the players in the build-up to an important match in the Champions' League," he said in the statement.
"We will not add to this speculation by responding and only wish to reiterate that Claudio Ranieri has over three years to run on his contract.
"We are at an exciting stage of the season where we stand second in the Premiership and have the chance to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions' League.
"It is important that we all work closely together to maintain our momentum and challenge for honours at the highest level."
Ranieri had earlier said: "For me everything is rubbish, I don't believe it - but of course the club should say something if I'm under pressure. But I want to say the club should say 'This is all rubbish, continue to work' - not for me but for the players, for all of their sacrifices."
Having spent more than £120m of Abramovich's money in a spree unprecedented in world football, the pressure is on the Italian to deliver success. But with Chelsea in the last eight of the Champions' League and in second place, as Arsenal's only challengers in the Premiership, Ranieri could be judged to be on his way to the level of achievement craved by his Russian sponsor.
The former Valencia manager said: "Speculation is not good and I don't understand why, at this moment, when Chelsea are second in the League, there is a quarter-final, that there is this speculation.
"Not for Ranieri, the journalists have been killing Ranieri for a long time.
"But now, why? There is a different strategy. I don't know why they want to kill, not Ranieri, they want to kill the whole season. I think the club could say something to defend the coach and the players."
The Chelsea defender John Terry yesterday was the latest player to back Ranieri.
Terry said: "Everyone is behind Claudio and we support him 100 per cent. With all the rubbish being said about him, it does get on your nerves.
"But we're staying together as a team. We'll work as hard as we can for Claudio and get the results."