Jose Mourinho last night increased the pressure on Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board by declaring that the captain, John Terry, did not want to play for another manager.
His revelation came on the day that a source close to Mourinho told The Independent that he believed the Portuguese had now finally made up his mind to leave the club this summer because of the rift that had developed with the club's owner Abramovich.
Speaking after the 4-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho added to the drama surrounding the Premiership champions by declaring that Terry had sought assurances from him that he would not quit at the end of the season.
"When JT tells me, before he signs his new contract, because he has almost signed it, when he tells me it would be very difficult for him to play for another manager in his career, it is because he accepts my philosophy and it is the way he feels. He feels comfortable," Mourinho said.
"I'm saying that he would like [me to stay]. I heard [Gary] Neville say the same about Sir Alex [Ferguson]. He wants to spend his whole career with Sir Alex. So he [Terry] is comfortable with the work we are doing."
Mourinho was asked whether Terry, 26, who returned to full training yesterday after back surgery and hopes to make his comeback soon, had talked to him directly about his own future before committing himself to the new five-year contract on offer at Chelsea, the manager replied. "Yes. My answer was I think so."
However, the public utterance although far from unequivocal in itself is at odds with what sources close to Mourinho are now saying. One was contacted two weeks ago, when the crisis erupted, and insisted that, although there were problems at the club and between the manager and owner, they were nothing that "victories cannot change". The same source was contacted yesterday and said simply: "Jose has decided he wants to go at the end of the season."
It may well be that Mourinho is trying to manage the situation to ensure that the club's fans remain on his side while he secures the best possible deal for his exit from Stamford Bridge. With a contract worth £5.2m a year, which runs until 2010, he will have to work extremely hard to persuade Abramovich to pay up in full should he quit.
Mourinho will be aware that he may face the same kind of uncompromising tactics used to wear down his predecessor, Claudio Ranieri. Mourinho, however, is likely to be a feistier negotiator than the Italian.
Abramovich was again absent last night, following his decision not to attend last Saturday's Premiership match at Liverpool because of his disillusionment with Mourinho. He had planned to fly to Israel for the launch of a football tournament he is sponsoring, but has changed his arrangements and will not arrive until later today.
Abramovich aides are believed to have started the process of sounding out replacements for Mourinho, who himself is keen to fulfil his dream of coaching in Italy. His agent, Jorge Mendes, has been contacted by Internazionale, as well as Real Madrid, but it appears Mourinho would prefer a move to Juventus or Milan should a vacancy open up.
Chelsea are seriously considering the Juve coach, Didier Deschamps, as his replacement. The Frenchman was approached before Mourinho was appointed and might have been given the job had his Monaco side not lost the 2004 Champions' League final to Mourinho's Porto. At 38, Deschamps fits the kind of youthful manager Abramovich is believed to favour, although he has given Chelsea little encouragement.
When Abramovich flies to Israel for the week-long friendly tournament, the First Channel Cup, involving Israeli, Ukrainian and Russian clubs he is expected to be joined for two days by Avram Grant, the technical director of Portsmouth. The two men have grown increasingly close, with Grant expected to move to Chelsea in the summer.
That relationship, along with the influence of Frank Arnesen, Chelsea's head of development and youth and his "Dutch connection" at the club the scout Piet de Visser and youth coach Ruud Kaiser is part of Mourinho's frustrations. There are also friends and associates of Abramovich although not the club's board who have alienated Mourinho and vetoed transfers.
Another focus of discontent at the club has been Andrei Shevchenko, although the striker scored twice last night and won praise from Mourinho, who declared that the "message" had now got through to the 30-year-old.
Indeed some sources believe Mourinho is simply trying to renegotiate another new contract or increase his power base, and reduce the influence of some of his enemies but, given Abramovich's mood, the situation appears to have gone much further than that.
Next big things: Four candidates to replace Mourinho in the summer
The 60-year-old Dutchman heads the list of three managers who have already been sounded out. Currently coaching Russia in a deal partly arranged and funded by Roman Abramovich, but is apparently unsure whether he wants to move to Chelsea. Abramovich is a fan, especially after Hiddink's World Cup exploits with South Korea and Australia.
The former France midfielder and World Cup winner was approached before Jose Mourinho was appointed. Led Monaco to the European Cup final, where they lost to Mourinho's Porto;now in charge of Juventus, who head Serie B following their demotion after the match-fixing scandal.
Hugely experienced coach who has only ever worked in Spain (he has coached at 11 clubs there). The 56-year-old shot to prominence in leading Seville to victory over Middlesbrough in the Uefa Cup final last season. He is known as a disciplinarian, while his teams have a reputation for attacking football. Seville are battling to win their first La Liga title for 61 years but recently surrendered the top spot, on goal difference, to Barcelona.
May appear an unlikely candidate but the Tottenham manager would be championed by Frank Arnesen, Chelsea's head of youth and scouting, who was poached from White Hart Lane in acrimonious circumstances.
Chelsea's month to forget
26 Dec: A last-minute Michael Essien own goal gives Reading a 2-2 draw. Manchester United win to go four points clear.
28 Dec: John Terry has an operation on his slipped disc, putting him out for several weeks at least.
31 Dec: Chelsea are held to a 2-2 draw by Fulham, their fourth straight game without Terry in which they concede twice. Afterwards Jose Mourinho names Andrei Shevchenko, Solomon Kalou and Shaun Wright-Phillips as three of five players "who cannot perform at a high level".
10 Jan: After the 1-1 draw at Wycombe, Mourinho claims the club is frustrating his attempts to make transfer-window signings, which the chief executive Peter Kenyon denies.
14 Jan: Terry says he is willing to talk to Roman Abramovich in support of Mourinho.
20 Jan: Puts Shevchenko on for last 17 minutes of the 2-0 defeat at Liverpool. Afterwards, shakes hands with all his team except the Ukrainian. Though United lose at Arsenal the next day, they are six points clear at the top.Reuse content