A defiant André Villas-Boas has dismissed suggestions his future as Chelsea manager will be defined by the Champions League tie against Napoli with the Portuguese already "excited" and "confident" about the team's prospects for next season.
Chelsea confront Napoli, conquerors of Manchester City in the group stage, in the ferocious atmosphere of the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday night braced to be without their injured captain, John Terry. They have slipped to fifth in the Premier League and laboured to take Birmingham City of the Championship to a fifth-round replay in the FA Cup. Villas-Boas has endured unrest within the ranks which, with the owner, Roman Abramovich, making a point of observing training at Cobham recently, has suggested that his ideas are not backed by all of his players.
That appeared a risky tactic given that the Russian oligarch has employed six managers since 2007, with Luiz Felipe Scolari dismissed at around this stage of the season three years ago when the team's position in the Premier League's top four appeared similarly under threat.
"There's been an obvious tendency for change to happen," Villas-Boas said. "But from the messages [issued] by the club and the board in the recent past there's a clear indication that there's a change in the way we approach the projects for the future. The speculation is normal, given the cultural past of this football club, but you have to understand that there's a different perspective now.
"We have great belief in what we will do next year, setting up a team to bring us the biggest amount of trophies we can have. I'm really confident about next year. That doesn't take any responsibility for what's happening now but we had a three-year project to change not only the team but the culture and structure of the club. There's a lot we needed to do, a lot of plans, so that's why I'm excited about the future. I have the full confidence of the owner, I am here to do my job. And my job is for this year and the next two years."
Villas-Boas did suggest that his frequently delivered reminders that he retains Abramovich's full support might ring truer if publicly backed by the club's hierarchy. The owner will not be in Italy this evening. "These words would be more valuable coming from the top to you guys, I know," the manager said at his pre-match media conference at the stadium, which was also attended by the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, and the chief executive, Ron Gourlay. "I cannot keep saying them but as the voice of the club I will continue to perpetuate this message because this is what we believe in.
"From 2004 up to now, this club has made a dramatic change for the best. It has been the richest part of Chelsea's history, full of trophies and success, and you want to perpetuate that. To do that you have to sometimes make changes because you cannot sustain the same habits that you had in 2004, when this environment and team was created to make a winning team. That was the project [we accepted]. Having said that, we have to build a team to win trophies from the start. But there's full belief from the owner in what we're doing, so hopefully it will continue to be just that."
There were timely shows of support from senior playerson Monday. Daniel Sturridge claimed Chelsea were "not a divided unit" and Didier Drogba offered a reminder that responsibility for results should be shared between squad and management. "We can feel that nobody really believes in us," said Drogba. "But we are used to this competition and we're going to have to show we deserve to be here. We are all responsible for the results, and the players have to play their game.
"We've been in a difficult situation over the last few weeks, few months, but in the past we have always found the strength to play these big games and to win them. Like when we were in trouble against Valencia [in the final group fixture last December] but won the game and qualified. This is our chance."
It is a year since Terry urged his team-mates to "man up" ahead of a knock-out tie at FC Copenhagen with pressure mounting on the then manager Carlo Ancelotti. Chelsea went on to win that first leg, and tie, 2-0 though they may have to be without the centre-half on Tuesday night. Terry trained at a sodden San Paoloon Monday night, if only gingerly, and is still feeling the effects of a knee injury sustained in the FA Cup tie against Portsmouth last month. Villas-Boas said Terry was a "major doubt", though the prognosis was more positive on Ashley Cole, who has been troubled by a calf complaint.
Chelsea have not won any of the four games Terry has missed with the bruising on the joint, with the team having conceded seven goals. "We will assess John again," Villas-Boas said. "It's important to see the impact the training session has on his knee and then we'll decide. Ashley has shown good, positive signs and has more chance of being available than John."