Andre Villas-Boas believes the month of December is an important one for Chelsea, but if the next two games don't go to plan he may not be there long enough to see it through.
Defeat or a score-draw on Tuesday at home to Valencia will put an end to this season's European campaign, but a loss at home to Manchester City after that could put an end to a great deal more. I didn't expect them to win the Premier League this season, and maybe they didn't themselves, but if City beat Chelsea next week, a gap of 13 points will open between them. Villas-Boas can talk as much as he likes about three-year plans, but if that happens very few will be listening.
He believes the players are behind him and the owner will give him time, but Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean is the only man with shorter odds to be sacked next. After the hype and optimism that greeted his appointment in the summer, and despite yesterday's win at Newcastle, Villas-Boas could well be on borrowed time.
The challenges he faced when he arrived at the club weren't unique to Chelsea's dressing room. They're not even unique to professional football clubs. To walk into a room with gifted, successful and egocentric colleagues, all of whom are looking to cast judgement on your every comment and decision, is a daunting task. Knowing that any hint of a weakness will be seized upon, and any sign of insecurity will be used against you, places extraordinary pressure on an already difficult task. But of any dressing room in the UK, it would appear this is particularly the case in Chelsea's.
Successive managers in recent years have had to deal with the power struggle which admittedly exists at every club, but handling the personalities of this particular group of players has been cited time and again as the most significant aspect of the job. If the opinions of some have been sought and valued in the past by the owner, as reports have suggested, the opportunity to absolve themselves of their own responsibilities is always available to the players.
Repeated failure in Europe has led to the departure of his predecessors, for success in the Champions League has eluded Roman Abramovich at every attempt. The players never appear to be as accountable. If that is the case these days, Villas-Boas is a lot weaker than he thinks. It is all too easy to refer to the authority of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United as the template for success, but his own assertion that a manager must be the most important figure at any club has never quite washed at Chelsea. Certainly not since Abramovich has been there. After every Champions League exit, the suitability of the manager has been the focus of public debate. The role of the players doesn't seem to receive the same level of public scrutiny, and that situation has survived to this day.
If that attitude exists within the club, chances of sustaining a challenge in the short or medium term seem unlikely. Despite some very poor individual performances of late, it seems the system adopted by the manager is to blame.
When he was appointed, Villas-Boas was heralded as the up-and-coming manager of his generation having achieved remarkable success at Porto at a very young age. On the back of recent poor results, his age and inexperience are now being used against him. It was never going to be any other way.
Whether he survives if Chelsea are eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday night remains to be seen, but removing him after such a short time in the job would be absurd. Even discussing the prospect seems ridiculous, but the owner's reputation suggests it's not entirely out of the question.
Having acquired him at a cost of €13m from Porto, sacking him after only five months would require a pay-off in the region of €16m. Any reasonable analysis would conclude the figures would rule it out, but with Roman Abramovich that logic doesn't apply.
The significance of Tuesday's result is obvious, but the greater challenge facing Chelsea is away from the field of play. As long as the manager feels he needs to win over the players to remain in charge, the likelihood is he won't last very long. If Abramovich really does want to succeed, patience and loyalty need to be shown to the man he appointed on a three-year deal only five months ago. Neither are qualities associated with him to date, nor is success in the Champions League for that matter. There may well be a link between the two.
Sunday Indo Sport