May 15, 2013, 8:52 PM EST
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.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:26 PM EST
We want to watch games this weekend. We’re not interested in the rationale. Find a way to get us your product.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
Montreal has ensured that Major League Soccer will have at least one semifinalist in this season’s CONCACAF Champions League after a year out of the final four,
Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Oh MLS: What fun is there in following the narrative?
Mar 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EST
If you’d like your supporters group to be featured on future episodes of ‘I Was There’ simply send pictures/video to @NBCSportsSoccer or NBC Sports Soccer on Twitter on Facebook using the #IWasThere.”
Mar 3, 2015, 7:47 PM EST
Vancouver may be missing that huge, huge name but is solid top-to-bottom.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST
The brash Englishman is happy to call the win a turning point for his club, which moves out of the relegation zone for the time being.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST
Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:53 PM EST
After a late win against Palace ended their goal drought, Saints remain in the top four hunt.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:52 PM EST
The pair of managers had to be separated on the touchline after Poyet angrily approached Bruce, who had been loudly criticizing a dive from Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
This should be the year TFC breaks its MLS playoffs’ duck. But nothing’s ever certain in Toronto.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
Villa net late win after PK drama, move out of relegation zone.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
Relief for Southampton, as Mane’s goal seals crucial win to keep top four hopes alive.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
The Tigers stay a point ahead of Sunderland. Hull is in 15th place with 27 points.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Watch the second half of all three PL games on Tuesday, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:29 PM EST
A referee in Cyprus has come clean, describing an incredibly deep-rooted problem of match-fixing in the country that makes us wonder how prevalent this problem really is.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:35 PM EST
The FA says the finding of “significant new information” has led them to extend the investigation.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:09 PM EST
A massive relegation six-pointer between these two north east rivals. Watch live online, here.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Can Villa get their first win under Sherwood in this huge Midlands derby? Watch live online, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
Can Saints get back to winning ways as old boss Pardew brings Palace to town? Watch live online, here.
- WATCH: Incredible 60-yard pass leads Montreal ouster of Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League 1
- Tuesday’s Premier League roundup: Saints, Villa win; Hull, Sunderland draw 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: Toronto FC 0
- Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Late drama hands Sherwood first win (video) 0
- Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mane’s late goal gets Saints back on track (video) 0
- Update on MLS labor strike: Players Union, league at impasse as situation looks dire 8