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 30, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
One of the most influential men in world soccer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 82.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
After success at the 2014 World Cup, vanishing spray is coming to the PL.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Shaw: “I didn’t come into United thinking it’s going to be much harder and that’s something I made a mistake on.”
Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo flexing the abs as he is set to appear in the largest-ever Men’s Health front cover campaign.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:18 AM EDT
United make it three wins from three on their U.S. tour. Watch the highlights from Van Gaal’s men in action.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Will United splash the cash to sign Vidal in central midfield?
Jul 30, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
Lukaku set to sign for Everton from Chelsea.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:11 AM EDT
United to splash the cash? Lukaku on his way out of Chelsea? All the latest gossip, right here.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:27 AM EDT
Toure: “My decision is that I will stay at Manchester City for as long as possible.”
Jul 30, 2014, 7:48 AM EDT
After losing the PL title late in the season, then England being knocked out of the World Cup, can Gerrard bounce back?
Jul 29, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
“I can only say that I’m very happy at City and at the moment we are talking about a contract,” Dzeko said.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The 3,600 meters of elevation will provide a stiff challenge, with many opposing clubs having fallen victim to the altitude.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Manchester United continued their success in the US with a third consecutive victory.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:01 PM EDT
Sturridge and Ibe step to the mic and hold their own.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
In team news, van Gaal has decided to go with his fabled 3-5-2.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
In a startling revelation, AS has revealed that Radamel Falcao has begun following three Real Madrid players on Instagram.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
Big day for headlines coming out of Southampton but this one looks to be quite promising for Saints fans.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Twenty-seven years after his first stint with Gremio, Luis Felipe Scolari is returning to the Brazilian side as its new manager.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Krkic, who made the $6.7 million move from Barcelona last week, scored a cracker of a first goal for Stoke City.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
Tevez’s family was then phoned and told to deliver a ransom of $5,000 (40,000 pesos).
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