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.
Mar 9, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT
It likely means very little, but it’s a narrative we’ll be watching all year… and the first salvo belongs to the Western Conference.
Mar 9, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
He’s in Barcelona. She’s from Colombia. Their kid is named Milan.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
It was a small sample size for the Premier League, but that didn’t stop some stars from shining in Round 29.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
With Levante already trailing Real Madrid 2-0, David Navarro took a red card for a harsh foul on the international star.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Aside from the Gunners, there shouldn’t be too many hurt feelings amongst the other giants of Europe.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:33 PM EDT
The Old Lady beats Fiorentina to extend lead atop Serie A, dismiss opponents’ threat to third.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Knee ailment sees Dutch midfielder out of match after 12 minutes.
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Mar 9, 2014, 6:56 PM EDT
The Blues are seven points clear, Fulham moves clear to the second tier, and Manchester United illuminate the depths of West Brom.
Mar 9, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
It was Valladolid’s first win over Barcelona since October 2012, and “boosted” their record in the rivalry to 4W-5D-23L.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:35 PM EDT
That’s a photo from an actual Serie A match between Lazio and Atalanta. Wow.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
Wilmer Cabrera gets a win in his debut as boss of Chivas USA.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
This Johannsson kid is easily the best Icelandic-Alabaman we’ve seen in a long time.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
Meyler capped off a long run with a left-footed finish to score the second of Hull’s three goals in a shutout win over Sunderland on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
It’s a horrifying story, and one that is sure to have severe repercussions throughout Ghana’s soccer structure.
Mar 9, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
With Pique picking up his fourth yellow against Real Valladolid, he could sit next league match to ensure his availability against Real Madrid.
Mar 9, 2014, 2:05 PM EDT
At least one of Wigan, Hull City or Sheffield United will make the FA Cup final as the quarterfinals are complete and the semifinal draw is out.
Mar 9, 2014, 1:37 PM EDT
In the midst of a 4-match winless skid in the Bundesliga – 5 if you include the Champions League drubbing by PSG – Bayer Leverkusen now lose a key midfield component.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:54 AM EDT
An offshore Swiss bank account has betrayed the 62-year-old as he faces 10 years in prison.
Mar 9, 2014, 10:23 AM EDT
Jozy Altidore was left out of the Sunderland squad today thanks to a knock he picked up in training, but this season as a whole has been a train wreck.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:26 AM EDT
According to the player’s agent and brother, an English club – and possibly multiple – made a large offer for the defender, but he is happy at Real Madrid.
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