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.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
Almost 90,000 fans in Los Angeles watched Manchester United put an old-fashioned punking on their hosts. And then both sides reacted.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT
Surely one of these clubs enjoyed the sweeter side of this deal and here we set out to see who it was.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT
Despite starting only 12 Premier League matches last year, James Milner has decided to remain at Manchester City and fight for his place.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Catch the San Jose Earthquakes and Chicago Fire live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 10:30pm ET.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
In a relaxed match featuring over forty players, the difference came in the 89th minute as Marco Borriello knocked home a corner.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
Rijeka have come forward to say they “clearly and unequivocally reject” City’s allegation of racism.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Beasley signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Dynamo and becomes the club’s third Designated Player.
Jul 23, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Catch Liverpool and AS Roma live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra tonight at 7:00pm ET.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Jurgen Klinsmann has long coveted Zelalem and the 17-year old looks to be next in line to don the Stars & Stripes.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
According to Fuchs, Germany and France would be happy to take over if needed.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
Sigurdsson, who scored seven goals during a loan spell with Swansea in 2011/12, returns at the Liberty after two seasons at Spurs.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Can the Spanish international be a success at Chelsea? You bet.
Jul 23, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
Is there anything Balotelli can’t do?
Jul 23, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Will Lampard be suiting up at Yankee Stadium for NYC FC next season? We find out Thursday…
Jul 23, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
What would your school look like as a professional soccer team?
Jul 23, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
The show will go on, but not in eastern Ukraine as fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the military continues.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
German boss reveals he will stay on as manager until at least 2016. Can you smell a dynasty?
Jul 23, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT
Substance over style: Barca sign towering defender from La Liga rivals Valencia.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Will the Mexican international be moving on this summer?
Jul 23, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Aspas to Spanish radio: “They are treating Luis like a murderer and not like a footballer.”
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