Andre Villas-Boas has been told that his future as the manager of Chelsea is dependent on keeping his team in this season's Champions League.
Roman Abramovich's continued support of the Portuguese's "project" to overhaul the English club's squad and playing style hinges on eliminating Napoli in two weeks' time, according to sources close to Villas-Boas.
Recent conversations between the manager and Abramovich included an explicit warning that exiting the competition the Chelsea owner covets beyond all others to a club well down Serie A was not acceptable.
The Russian billionaire is said to have informed Villas-Boas that he still liked the young coach and supported plans to radically overhaul a rebellious squad this summer, but other important figures at Chelsea do not want him at the club next season.
If results, starting with the key Champions League tie, do not improve Villas-Boas would be dismissed.
Though Chelsea will carry a 3-1 deficit into that Stamford Bridge return game with Napoli, Villas-Boas remains confident of progressing and retaining his job.
His awareness that Abramovich's support is now conditional, however, was reflected in an interview granted to Portuguese radio station TSF two days after the Napoli defeat and broadcast on Monday evening.
Asked about his future at Chelsea, Villas-Boas compared his position to those of Carlo Ancelotti, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Jose Mourinho, all dismissed by the Russian billionaire in previous seasons.
"The seat that I am in is one from which a world champion, a manager with two Champions Leagues, and another with a Uefa Cup, two Premierships and two Champions Leagues fell," said Villas-Boas.
"Obviously you have to go to the owner's decisions to understand what provoked them, what stimulates him. The continuation of something new, a new project? We are in exactly the same situation as last year - we are an exact copy of what happened last year - with two completely different actors, and that's curious.
"One experienced, the other a new coach with a career in the making, and we are in exactly the same circumstances.
"I believe [Abramovich will continue with this project], this is the trust I feel from him and the guidance I have. The owner's culture and pattern of behaviour has been leading to [managers'] downfalls in identical situations or even better.
"What can happen now? One of two things, either the continuation of the project with total belief or this pattern of behaviour pattern until now; we do not know. We do not know if it will be tomorrow, if it will be in two years or three, it depends on his understanding of the current landscape."
Chelsea currently stand fifth in the Premier League, in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time under Abramovich's stewardship.
They trail Manchester City, whose "Italian" style of football Villas-Boas criticised in the TSF interview, by 17 points and face an FA Cup replay at Birmingham City after failing to defeat the Championship club at home.
Statistically, Villas-Boas's record at Chelsea is the worst of any of the seven managers Abramovich has employed.
The 34 year old has also engaged in an unusually public battle of wills with several senior players, declaring that he did not need their support and promising to move the recalcitrant out of the club.
With Abramovich's involvement, Chelsea have already prepared the ground to replace Villas-Boas this season if necessary.
Fabio Capello and Rafa Benitez have been approached about taking over until the end of the current campaign, though both have indicated that they would only take the job on a longer-term basis. Ideally, the Russian would like to persuade Pep Guardiola to leave the Camp Nou when his contract expires on June 30 and rebuild Chelsea in the image Barcelona.
Villas-Boas, meanwhile, has rebuilt his relationship with the FC Porto president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa and is being considered as a replacement for current coach Vitor Pereira.
The 34 year old told TSF that there was "no prospect of a return in the near future", also ruling out a switch to Inter Milan.
He is understood to prefer a move to Spain if he is forced out of Stamford Bridge.