May 15, 2013, 8:52 PM EDT
Winning silverware is nothing to take for granted, but every club has standards. Every squad has goals against which they measure performance and achievement, and for Chelsea FC, none of those goals would have included “Europa League champion” nine months ago. One of the most talented, best funded teams in the world, Chelsea started the year with Champions League, Premier League, and FA Cup glory on their minds. That they’ll finish the year with Europa League consolation is the thinnest of silver linings.
If you’re Chelsea fan, you don’t need to hear another account of your team’s 2012-13 shortcomings, but over the next our days – the time between Europa League triumph and Rafa Benítez’s final match as boss of José Mouriho’s team the Blues – it will be important to remember that context. Because already, we are seeing justifications of a man who, having inherited a team that was still in contention for all their major goals, is going to be portrayed as reclaimed for having raised a secondary trophy, as if community college honors will suffice when you drop out of your four-year school.
Benítez does deserve some credit for the job he’s done over the last three months, stabilizing a team that looked capable of again plunging out of England’s Champions League spots. But just like today’s Europa League honor, that credit requires context. Chelsea’s winter precipice was partially created by Benítez, who took a team safely in third and plunged them into a race with Arsenal and Spurs before forging safety. It’s not an insignificant accomplishment, stabilizing a talented but flawed group, but when the end result sees the team no better than when you took over (when Chelsea sat third at the time of Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal), it’s difficult to paint a triumphant picture.
So give credit to those who will try to do so, pundits who, emboldened by Wednesday’s honor, will portray the vindication of Benítez. Never mind Chelsea were clear favorites against every team on their Europa League path: Sparta Praha, Steaua Bucuresti, Rubin Kazan, Basel, and Benfica. And never mind this is only Europa League, a competition within which no Blues coach should be judged (would you really consider Europa League a major accomplishment from somebody who managed Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern, Real Madrid, or Barcelona – the level at which Chelsea aspires to be?). It takes a olympiad’s worth of rhetorical gymnastics to spin Europa League into a major point in Benítez’s favor. Give those pundits credit for trying.
Ultimately, while it’s very cool for Chelsea fans to round out their Europeans trophy quad-fecta, there are far more valid measures by which to judge Benítez. At best, kept Chelsea above water in league, failing to restore one of the world’s most talented teams to title contending form. He was at the helm as the team was eliminated from three other competitions: Champions League; FA Cup; League Cup. His tactics and management were responsible for three widely inconsistent winter months, during which time he continued a tete-a-tete with Blues supporters that dates back to his time at Anfield.
And perhaps most importantly: Never under Benítez’s watch have Chelsea played to their talent level. They’ve swooned, they’ve improved, they’ve answered some positional questions, and ultimately, they’ve won some games (and a trophy). But these platitudes are inconsistent with a club as ambitious as Chelsea. They shouldn’t be this far from Premier League contention, let along in Europa League.
A manager can be both good and not good enough, and after seeing Liverpool out of the old top four before a five-month disaster at Inter, Benítez needed to re-prove he was good. And he has, something we should never forget as we’re forced to offset the coming day’s excessive adulation. But for a club that is capable of drawing José Mourinho-level coaches, Benítez is nowhere near good enough.
There is, however, a job opening up in Liverpool.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
A host of teams are battling it out to determine who will fill Germany’s European spots. Meanwhile, the rush to avoid the drop continues.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Chicago goes for its first win while New England looks to make it two-in-a-row, and it all starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra:
Apr 19, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
All the recaps, analysis and video highlights from a sensational Saturday:
Apr 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Watch Chelsea’s manager implode in the post-match TV interview, as his unbeaten streak comes to an end:
Apr 19, 2014, 2:52 PM EDT
Lazio, Torino and Parma all dropped points, opening a path for AC Milan to push into Italy’s final Europa League spot.
Apr 19, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Chelsea lose at home in PL under Mourinho for first time in 77 matches, as Sunderland shock Blues:
Apr 19, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT
Blues and Black Cats locked at 1-1 after nervy first half, watch live online right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
According to the Fulham manager, if his side win their two remaining home matches, the Whites will stay up.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
Cardiff and Stoke both score PKs, as Bluebirds fail to take another step towards safety:
Apr 19, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT
Aston Villa may have clinched a vital point in the battle for safety, playing out a goalless draw with Southampton at Villa Park.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT
Swansea secure vital win, as Newcastle slump to yet another defeat.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
Tony Pulis has done it once more – with three points from West Ham, Crystal Palace are now assured of a second consecutive Premier League season.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Can Chelsea go top of the Premier League by beating struggling Sunderland? Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 11:31 AM EDT
Spurs boss react to Sandro’s Twitter frustration:
Apr 19, 2014, 9:43 AM EDT
Fulham put up a good fight, but in the end failed to take advantage of Spurs weaknesses to come away from White Hart Lane with even a point.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:27 AM EDT
Villa are back in the relegation battle once more, but three points against the Saints at Villa Park would do wonders for their confidence.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Swans still not safe, as struggling Newcastle stand in the way. Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
Both sides could clinch another season in the Premier League this weekend-but they’ll have to take all three points. Can either side do it?
Apr 19, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
Bluebirds continue their battle against the drop, as Potters come to town. Watch live, right here:
Apr 19, 2014, 7:39 AM EDT
Find out how to watch every single PL game live online of via the app:
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