Carlo Ancelotti's relationshipwith Chelsea ownerRoman Abramovich is said to have broken down irretrievably and the Chelsea manager still expects to depart the club at the end of the season, if not before.
Although Ancelotti spoke with the Russian owner by telephone on Wednesday night after the 1-0 defeat by Marseille and says that he was reassured by theconversation claiming he trusts Abramovich and that their relationship remains 'constant' those close to theChelsea manager say they fear the bond between the two is irreparably broken.
Ancelotti now faces a 16-day spell which even he admits will define the club's season, with matches against Tottenham away today, Manchester United at home next weekend and Arsenal away on December 27.
It could result in his dismissal before the year is out if all three are lost. Chelsea have now won only twice in eight games their worst run of form since Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
While Ancelotti is not expected to quit, in his darker moments it is said that he has contemplated walking away. One such moment came after the sacking of his assistant Ray Wilkins and his replacement by Michael Emenalo a coach without the relevant UEFA qualifications who is perceived to be a favourite of the owner.
Ancelotti's loyalty to and affection for the players means that he would not walk out inthe middle of the season but those close to the manager say that he does not expect to be in his current job next season one way or another.
He fears that he will be sacked but, if he does survive the season, Chelsea insiders expect him to follow the example of sporting director Frank Arnesen, who is quitting the club.
If Ancelotti was to be removed before the New Year, the choices to take over from him seem limited. Emenalo would clearly be a candidate because, while sections of the team are suspicious of the man viewing him as the source of Ancelotti's perceived humiliation others appear friendly with the new assistant first-team coach.
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Players still believe there are considerable tensions between Emenaloand Ancelotti, with the squad unclear whether the Nigeriancoach is actually meant to go on to the training pitch or whether he is just an observer, studying for the UEFA Pro Diploma coaching badge.
Some within the club believe Emenalo would be asked to take over fromAncelotti if the Italian were to be dismissed this month.
His lack of relevant coaching badges means that his appointment, evenas a caretaker manager, would be problematic but not insurmountable. Emenalo is actively seeking to gain his badges at present, which meets the current Premier League rules.
An alternative option for Abramovich is to send out another SOS to Guus Hiddink, who stepped in mid-season in 2008-09 following the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari and guided Chelsea to victory in the FACup.
At that time, he juggled club responsibilities with his job as national team manager of Russia. He is currently in charge of Turkey. However, after two early victories in their Euro 2012 qualifiers, Turkeyhave lost heavily to Germany and Azerbaijan, meaning Hiddink might welcome an escape from the job as qualification now looks difficult fromGroup A.
Equally, Abramovich might be able to convince the Turkish FA to loan him Hiddink, as he did with his fellow Russians, given that there is only one more competitive fixture against Austria on March 29 beforeMay. Ancelotti has maintained remarkably good humour publicly, keeping up his irrepressibly jocular manner in conversation.
Got your back: Ancelotti (left) knows that Emenalo (right) is waiting for him to slip up
He has often joked before about how the coach's bench is 'shaking' during a bad spell of results, how some might be seeking to unscrew the joints so that it collapses and the manager is unseated. Reminded of theanalogy, Ancelotti grins enthusiastically.
'This is a good reason to have a good motivation to maintain the stability on the bench,' he said, before adding more seriously: 'I'm nothappy with my job in this moment, I have to do better. I'm searching for the right way to do better and help my players do better and move on.
'The reality is that we have to be ready for the next three games. Wehave to show a reaction. I'm happy to play against Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal. We have to hit back.
'Sometimes in your life you have to gamble, to take a risk. Now we have to take a risk. This will be a tough game and it could be the most difficult game to play in this moment because Tottenham at home are verystrong.
'It is a very difficult moment and we don't have to be upset if someone says that we are in crisis. We didn't do what everyone expected,so it's normal to say that we are in crisis.'
Ancelotti will never blame the loss of form on the dismissal of Wilkins. 'Ray is my friend but the problem is not that Ray isn't here, the problem is because we had a lot of injuries,' he said.
The manager believes his players have not been moving the ball with sufficient energy or pace on the break, meaning scoring chances have been limited. In addition, they have lost their defensive discipline.
His answer to these problems on Friday was to stage a double trainingsession. Ancelotti said: 'We had a meeting, we were very clear. We explained everything and everyone agreed what the problem was. Now it's not enough to speak.
'We are not good enough in defence and we have to stay focused. We have to use training sessions to improve our defensive position. We are not good enough in possession because our possession now is not so cleanand quick and we have to train to improve this. This is my way to control stress. I'm not scared.'
Ancelotti might not be scared but he remains realistic; lose today and his exit from Stamford Bridge edges closer.
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