"I hate talking about next season when there is still some of this season remaining," Martin O'Neill says.
But it is hard to depart from the view, widely held, that this campaign has always been a nine-month preparation for 2007-08.
His Aston Villa team play at home to Everton tonight (8pm) and are bidding to end a run of results that has seen them win just two of their past 19 matches. But O'Neill was never one of those who were seduced by Villa's impressive form during the opening third of the season, when they sat third in the Premiership table and looked healthier than at any time since they were at the top in October 2001.
When Villa defeated Everton 1-0 at Goodison Park last November, they moved to third position. Having only picked up 13 points since then, they occupy 15th position, and are only four points clear of the relegation zone. The need for victory tonight cannot be exaggerated.
But O'Neill has words of hope for any Villa supporters who may have become frustrated by recent results. "I think the team will be miles better next season, miles better equipped for going through bad spells," he says. "We should be able to pick ourselves up quicker than we do in games and I think we are capable of doing that, I also think if we get a bit more quality into the squad in the summer, we will be much, much better next season."
It is inevitable that O'Neill will make new signings in the summer. Creativity is essential, as is the need for a 20-goal-a-season striker and another central defender. But if the present group of players come close to fulfilling their potential, the problems of the past three months will seem irrelevant.
It is clear that Villa still need time to gel after a particularly active January in the transfer market, while results have not been helped by a fixture programme that has given the team just three matches since February ten.
"Those people who have been supporting Villa and were well aware of the strengths and weaknesses wouldn't have been fooled by a couple of decent results at the start," O'Neill says.
"At the start, with the players not knowing me and vice-versa, a fortnight was little time to do much so I was grateful for all the results that we got early on.
"We got a wee bit of confidence going but when we got into a bit of trouble and could not win, it carried on longer than we would have wanted it to have done. It is never a good thing losing games but to take the incredible expectation out of things, it doesn't happen like that. It takes a bit of time."
How different things would have been had John Carew arrived last August rather than in January. His presence up front has given Villa a new dimension but there is a fear that his talents have not been put to best use.
"He deserves more assistance than we are giving him," O'Neill says. "There is no doubt about that. Again I feel that will come but he is not the type to throw his hands in the air and say 'where's the help?’
"The players have taken to him, his attitude has been terrific, and although not shown in terms of results, I think we are a better side with him than we were a couple of months ago."
By contrast, Stiliyan Petrov has taken time to settle and is still not producing the form that made him an integral part of the Celtic team under O'Neill.
"I know he is capable of playing much better and more consistently because he has done it in the past," O'Neill says. "It wasn't just in the Scottish League but in Europe as well. He is capable of playing at the top level. Having spent so long at one club, it has taken him a bit more time to adjust. The early performances for us were things I would have expected on a more consistent basis.
"I would have expected him to score more, play stronger and have a greater influence in games. I have a belief that will come and I have never wavered from that. It took him a while at Celtic to settle in but he was then only 19. Here he is a mature young man and he should be able to adjust to the the change of environment and change of life.
"John Carew is capable of making his mark whether he gets any help or not and I believe Petrov should be able to do the same. He can stand up and be counted regardless of whether there is any help about. He'll definitely make an impression. I've got no question about that."
O'Neill is not inclined to buy any player with a view to building a team around him. "That is like saying someone is in the team forever. The players will be picked on merit. There will be no guarantees for anyone. If someone is not doing it, and doesn't deserve to be in the side, I will have no hesitation in leaving them out.
"We [O'Neill and Petrov] have chats about it. They don't last for a life-time but it is important for him because he is a prominent member of the side and he should have the same sort of impetus as Gareth Barry has in the side. He should be capable of making that sort of impression in the side.
"Stiliyan hasn't played well enough for long enough but he is capable of making a big impression. He gets down when he is not playing well. That is not a bad thing. He would expect more of himself as well."
O'Neill expects Villa to secure the victories, probably two, that would end the need to talk about a potential battle to avoid relegation. But he will have noted that teams below Villa have gained some momentum.
"If we can win against Everton, it will give us a big lift and set us up for the end of the season. If we don't you will be asking me 'are you still looking over your shoulder?' I think until we get those couple of wins you can never be sure of anything.
"We are capable of winning a fair number of these remaining games."
Martin Laursen is unlikely to return to the starting line-up because, although he is fit after injury, he lacks match practice.
Olof Mellberg should be fit, despite sustaining a head injury while playing for Sweden against Northern Ireland last Wednesday.