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.
Dec 8, 2013, 7:50 AM EST
Can Rene Meulensteen breathe life into Dimitar Berbatov and a weary Fulham squad, or will it be Villa’s away day magic that continues to shine bright at Craven Cottage?
Dec 7, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
We’ll know in the next few days:
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
Can the Gunners stretch their lead at the summit? Will Fulham stop the rot? Both games live on NBCSN:
Dec 7, 2013, 10:00 PM EST
Experience was key early, set pieces came back to haunt them, and nobody will remember how you lost.
Dec 7, 2013, 9:28 PM EST
A few take-aways from Sporting Kansas City’s side on the clubs’ MLS Cup triumph Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park:
Dec 7, 2013, 9:01 PM EST
Both coaches said so after Saturday’s exciting match:
Dec 7, 2013, 8:35 PM EST
Sporting Kansas City’s center back scored a goal in the run of play and then nailed a beauty of a penalty kick:
Dec 7, 2013, 7:45 PM EST
Round-by-round as Sporting Kansas City wins MLS Cup 2013 in a 10-round penalty kick tiebreaker.
Dec 7, 2013, 7:35 PM EST
KANSAS CITY – After 10 rounds of penalty kicks, Major League Soccer has a 2013 champion.
Dec 7, 2013, 6:22 PM EST
NBC’s Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux break down Manchester City’s tie with Southampton on Saturday:
Dec 7, 2013, 5:19 PM EST
What a huge days for the Potters; hear what the club’s U.S. international right back has to say about it:
Dec 7, 2013, 4:20 PM EST
Obviously, this is also the coldest kickoff for an MLS championship match … by a long, long way, in fact:
Dec 7, 2013, 3:40 PM EST
RSL’s two injury doubts are ready, while Sporting rolls with the XI that got them to MLS Cup 2013.
Dec 7, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
Looking at how today’s match might play out from the visitors side:
Dec 7, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
Bayern stay four points above Bayern Leverkusen, who are now six above Dortmund in the Bundesliga table.
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 7, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
Shocks results steal the limelight but there’s also big wins for Palace, Spurs and Liverpool in a busy day of action:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:27 PM EST
Spurs put in dominant display as AVB’s men continue their resurgence by slaying bottom club Sunderland:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:13 PM EST
FIFA have changed the times of six World Cup fixtures, including the scheduled kickoff time for USA – Portugal.
Dec 7, 2013, 1:19 PM EST
After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Liverpool, Sam Allardyce appeared frustrated. So, too, are many of West Ham’s fans.
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