Skip to content

Europa glory does nothing to change Benítez’s unconvincing Chelsea tenure

May 15, 2013, 8:52 PM EDT

Britain Soccer Premier League AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Could England women’s manager Mark Sampson be headed to the Premier League?

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    Mark Sampson AP

    At 32 years of age, Sampson impressed many by leading England to a third-place finish in the Women’s World Cup.

  2. Sepp Blatter claims French and German presidents influenced World Cup voters

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT

    Blatter AP

    Sepp’s not going down without a fight, now bringing major political leaders into the mix.

  3. WATCH: Robbie Keane nets hat trick, Kaka sees red in Saturday night MLS action

    Jul 5, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT

    Toronto FC v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

    On the Fourth of July, there were fireworks all across Major League Soccer.

  4. United States, Japan meet in Women’s World Cup final with high hopes back home

    Jul 5, 2015, 7:40 AM EDT

    A view of the BC Place stadium in Vancouver on July 4, 2015 on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match USA vs Japan. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Both countries hope that this final will help bring further attention to the women’s game.

  5. Heather O’Reilly talks revenge on Japan, adjusting to bench role

    Jul 5, 2015, 4:51 AM EDT

    USA midfielder Heather O'Reilly (R) takes part in a training session at the BC Place stadium in Vancouver on July 4, 2015 on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final football match USA vs Japan. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Olympic gold medals are great, but this group wants a World Cup title.

  6. Krieger credits Ellis, communication for United States’ defensive success

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT

    USA defender Ali Krieger (R) vies with Germany's forward Anja Mittag during their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup semi-final football match between USA and Germany at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal on June 30, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The U.S. hasn’t given up a goal in 513 minutes at this World Cup, heading into the final against Japan.

  7. MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew SC 2-1 New York Red Bulls

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC Getty Images

    Kei Kamara -> Ethan Finlay (x2) was all Crew SC needed to jump three places in the Eastern Conference.

  8. 2015 Copa America awards: Vargas, Guerrero beat Aguero, Vidal to top scorer

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT

    Eduardo Vargas, Chile — 2015 Copa America semifinal Eduardo Vargas, Chile — 2015 Copa America semifinal

    Eduaro Vargas and Paolo Guerrero beat all the big names to the 2015 Copa America top scorer’s award.

  9. For Japan women’s national team, approach to game and life is team-first

    Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Members of Japan's national team joke during a training session in Vancouver on July 4, 2015, on the eve of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup final against the US.   AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The solidarity between Japan teammates — and between the two teams contesting the final — is remarkable.

  10. Chile 0-0 (4-1 PKs) Argentina: Chile’s first Copa America title in 99-year history (video)

    Jul 4, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    Chile, 2015 Copa America champions Chile, 2015 Copa America champions

    It took 99 years, but Chile are finally champions of South America after defeating Argentina in a penalty shootout.

  11. Steven Gerrard’s first gift to his new LA Galaxy supporters — cases of California beer

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:28 PM EDT

    Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy

    Steven Gerrard is winning points with LA Galaxy supporters before ever stepping on the field for his new club.

  12. Transfers confirmed: Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid sign Douglas Costa, Jackson Martinez

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT

    Douglas Costa, FC Bayern Munich Getty Images

    Regulars in the latter stages of the Champions League, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid continue their summer spending sprees.

  13. FOLLOW LIVE — Copa America final: Messi, Argentina face hosts Chile

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Chile v Argentina - 2015 Copa America Chile Final Chile v Argentina - 2015 Copa America Chile Final

    We go once more at the 2015 Copa America. This time it’s Argentina vs. Chile for all the marbles.

  14. Busy international summer could give clubs plenty to plan for next season

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT

    Messi Getty Images

    With international competitions all over the globe this summer, clubs may want to think about stockpiling depth and resting their best players throughout the course of next season.

  15. Lloyd, Brian prove crucial to United States’ turnaround at Women’s World Cup

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Carli Lloyd has taken rightfully taken over the spotlight, but Morgan Brian’s supporting role is no less important.

  16. Dinamo Zagreb president, manager arrested on bribery and tax evasion charges

    Jul 4, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Mamic Getty Images

    Croatia’s most successful club has seen police throw its president and manager in prison.

  17. Sepp Blatter’s championing of women’s soccer leaves Megan Rapinoe unimpressed

    Jul 4, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    Rapinoe Getty Images

    Popularity of women’s soccer has improved greatly the past few years, but there’s still much work to be done, and the US international isn’t happy with FIFAs parading of accomplishments.

  18. Report: Robin van Persie agrees to personal terms with Fenerbahce

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    VanPersie Getty Images

    With the Dutchman set to turn 32 before the start of the league season, Manchester United may look to cash in on his star power after a down year.

Featured video

PST Extra: Done deals & transfer gossip