Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez has given his broadest hint yet that he does not expect to stay at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of this season.
Benitez's short-term contract runs to the end of this campaign and he seems to have given up hope of landing the position on a permanent basis as his unpopular appointment has not inspired a revival in fortunes.
A series of setbacks on the field and increasingly persistent rumours of dressing room unrest in recent weeks appear to have ended Benitez's hopes of extending his stay at Chelsea, confirming as much when he faced questions from reporters ahead of the FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough on Wednesday night.
After dismissing reports of a bust-up with his players following Sunday's defeat at Manchester City, Benitez was candid when he was asked whether it was hard to motivate players who suspected he would be leaving in the summer.
"You know, more or less, how things go (at Chelsea) in terms of what happens if you lose or win," stated Benitez. "I have a job to do and the players are clever enough and realise they will be here next season with long contracts.
"I will be working hard until the end. We have to try to beat Middlesbrough and then move on. My job is to concentrate on the next game, not the speculation."
Benitez sounded like a man counting down the days to the end of his brief stint at Chelsea as he reflected on where it has gone wrong for him since he succeeded Roberto Di Matteo last November.
"I accept we have had some games where we had to do better," added Benitez. "At Manchester City (on Sunday), we still had a penalty and two counter-attacks when we could have scored and made the difference, but we didn't play at the level we could play and that is my concern.
"I think we have had a lot of games we could have won, two or three easily. Reading, where after 93 and a half minutes towards winning and we lost two points. We conceded two at Newcastle when we were ahead. You have to win those games.
"It's not a question of character. It's a question of mistakes, of attention, of a lack of concentration, but we fight till the end. Don't forget, this team finished sixth last year, we have to fight now for the top three.
"I can guarantee the players know what we're trying to do and believe in it 100%. I am here to be in the top three, and do my best in every competition. After that, we will see."