Jose Mourinho's future at Stamford Bridge is coming under increasing scrutiny with Roman Abramovich expecting an immediate improvement in Chelsea's results.
Nothing has been said directly to Mourinho by Abramovich - that is not the Russian billionaire's style - but the Chelsea owner is understood to have grown annoyed at how his team have performed this season.
Unsurprisingly Guus Hiddink, currently the coach of the Russian national team, was again linked to taking over at Chelsea yesterday. The Dutchman would be the outstanding candidate to succeed Mourinho and, significantly, once more gave an interview in which he talked up his friendship with Abramovich.
"He was here the other day," Hiddink said. "He and I talked for a while about a number of things. I get on with him very well. Abramovich has created a massive football academy here [in Russia]. But he told me that Russia has not played a significant role in football for 10 years. He asked me if I could give him a helping hand."
Abramovich was, indeed, involved in recruiting the coach who led Australia to the 2006 World Cup finals and whose current deal runs out in 2008. However, that would not concern the Chelsea owner who would simply pay the money required to get his man should Mourinho leave.
Chelsea's last three Premiership matches have ended in draws and Abramovich is believed to have been particularly angry after the recent 2-2 result at home to Fulham just before New Year which followed Reading's visit.
At the same time some of Mourinho's excuses have been dismissed by the Russian - especially his complaints about the departure of William Gallas, saying it was a decision taken by the directors when the player was unsettled by the way he was being used on the field.
Mourinho's criticisms of Andrei Shevchenko have also been dismissed. It is understood that some sources believe the striker has partly suffered because he has been played out of position. Questions have also been raised over Chelsea's unexciting style of play, the decision not to use wingers and, significantly, the quality of Mourinho's signings, especially in defence.
Mourinho's own demeanour has also been queried at times - especially his reaction to criticism. Some at Chelsea still have not forgiven the manager for the way in which he threatened to walk out in the wake of the Uefa inquiry after the retirement of the referee Anders Frisk and believe it was simply a ploy to secure a better contract.
Interestingly questions have also been raised over how Mourinho acts under pressure and it is thought the linking of Hiddink to the Chelsea post, following on from the warning of an unnamed boardroom source last week that Mourinho had to sort things out quickly, is part of a growing campaign. He could walk before he is pushed and there will be no shortage of offers from Italy or Spain.
It is also starting to appear increasingly likely that Mourinho's future hinges on Chelsea's progress in the European Cup more than the Premiership. Chelsea are expected to defeat Mourinho's former club, Porto, in the next round but an exit soon after that will seriously undermine the manager who is also under pressure to improve his squad in the January transfer window. Chelsea currently trail Manchester United by six points.
Chelsea are planning to sign a defender, originally thought to be a right-back but now, given their injuries, more likely to be a central defender. Bolton Wanderers' Tal Ben Haim heads their list of targets. They also want another striker given Shevchenko's lack of goals and - just as crucially - the failure of Salomon Kalou to have any impact.Reuse content