Chelsea's embattled manager Andre Villas-Boas is being lined up for a return to Porto as his dressing room descends into open revolt and the Premier League club's hierarchy explore options to replace him. Few at Stamford Bridge now expect the 34-year-old Portuguese to survive into a second season.
Villas-Boas - who claimed a first victory in six matches yesterday - cancelled training following Tuesday's 3-1 Champions League loss at Napoli to attend his former club's Europa League tie against Manchester City. He watched the match beside Porto president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa and vice-president Reinaldo Teles.
Porto's coach, Vitor Pereira, has failed to maintain the standards achieved during last season's treble and is expected to be replaced at the end of the current campaign.
Well-placed sources believe Porto will move to bring back Villas-Boas should he be dismissed by Chelsea. Pinto da Costa has backed him in recent interviews, stating that "Villas-Boas made a mistake to leave Porto so soon."
Roman Abramovich, meanwhile, has been considering whether he made his own mistake in appointing Villas-Boas despite him having just one full season leading a team.
The Russian's preference remains to retain the coach until at least the end of the season, allowing him to continue a difficult process of moving out unwanted players. He will, however, not allow Villas-Boas to linger at the cost of Champions League qualification.
The club's hierarchy has been exploring the possibility of bringing in an experienced replacement on a "fire-fighter's" short-term contract, but both Fabio Capello and Rafa Benitez say they will not take the job under such conditions.
Capello, who is the preferred candidate to succeed Claudio Ranieri at Inter Milan, is not expected to change his stance. Benitez, positioning himself for the Real Madrid job, is more likely to reconsider.
Abramovich expects superior candidates to be available in the summer. Pep Guardiola has yet to extend his contract at Barcelona and Jose Mourinho has decided to leave Madrid. The Russian billionaire believes it should be possible to emulate Barcelona's football at Chelsea and has courted Guardiola for several years. His relationship with Mourinho has remained strong despite dismissing the club's most successful manager in 2007.
Villas-Boas continues to insist that he has the full backing of Chelsea's owner and that they are planning the coming season together.
He has, however, ridden back on a request that the club issue a public statement of support for him. Asked on Thursday if he had sought further assurance from the Abramovich this week, Villas-Boas said: "My assurance is my work and his words and my project for the following seasons."
As Villas-Boas acknowledged in recent weeks, several of Chelsea's senior players have lost faith in the manager's three-year "project" to overhaul the team's playing style.
England internationals Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have told the manager the club will not win silverware under him. Both were omitted from the starting 11 in Napoli that provoked further criticism of his decision making.
Villas-Boas was asked to account for his selections and strategy in a post-game meeting with Michael Emenalo; Chelsea's technical director posed a series of questions formulated by Abramovich before reporting back to him.
Irrespective of Villas-Boas's future, the club is pressing ahead with plans to dispense with the core of their 2010 title-winning team this summer.