If Chelsea does not quite yet resemble a sinking ship, Luiz Felipe Scolari yesterday told his players he was more than happy for them to make like rats, if they so desired.
With the transfer window shutting exactly two weeks today, the Chelsea manager spelt out that he had no wish for drifters or half-hearted turns in a blue shirt. Having dropped Didier Drogba prior to Wednesday's FA Cup third round replay win against Southend, that could be seen primarily as a message to the Ivory Coast forward, but Scolari was clear that it applied to his entire squad.
The Brazilian is unsure why the strength, spirit and good results of the first half of the season have gone, but he suspects some of his players have been approached to join other clubs, and this has affected their attitude. But the win in midweek confirmed for him that his team can rouse itself when needed to. At Roots Hall against Southend they fell 1-0 behind before coming back to win 4-1.
"I don't know if Didier doesn't want to play – I think he wants to," Scolari said, who added that Chelsea have been working on the Ivorian's mental application. "It's the time for everyone to play as a group, as a spirit and as love to Chelsea, or it's time to change.
"It's not about Didier, it's about all of my players, until the end of January is the time for transfers. If they are not transferred they need to play, to love Chelsea, to play with their heart.
"If after 31 January all the players stay here, they know we need to fight together until 27 May [the Champions League final] together. If no, now is the time to change. Not for one or two players. I know many managers and assistants call players. Now is the time to call and buy. Not make a problem for me. Because I don't make a problem for other coaches. Because I have ethics. I have time for all my players.
"Now is the time. Every day I look in the papers about contact for players. OK. Pay what the club wants and go. If you don't go, stay here. But stay because this job is very good and because you love the club. Finish."
This was Scolari's second outspoken press conference this week, having on Tuesday accused most of his players of giving less than 50 per cent in their recent games. Against Southend he was pleased to see he got a reaction and he now asked his team to continue in that vein. "We have good players, fantastic technically. But we need spirit every game, every day, every hour. Because on Wednesday we won, not because we played fantastic but because of the heart, we loved the club, we wanted to win."
Scolari, who faces Stoke City and their aerial threat today, is likely to start with Nicolas Anelka as his main striker, but having not even included Drogba in his squad of 16 against Southend, it will be interesting to see if he is on the bench, at least, in the battle for league points.
Scolari said they were working to improve the 30-year-old's state of mind. He said: "Drogba was left out because of his condition. Now we start to change his mind because sometimes he is not the same as before. Sometimes you put in your head something and it blocks. Now it's time to open this space in his head and give him more confidence."
If Scolari loses these mind games, the consequences could be dire for him and Chelsea.