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.
Nov 26, 2014, 8:32 PM EST
“I feel that right now I am playing some of the best football of my career,” Fabregas said.
Nov 26, 2014, 7:38 PM EST
“It goes without saying, I’d love to come,” Heskey told BBC Radio Leicester.
Nov 26, 2014, 6:44 PM EST
Poor Franck. All fired up and not even on the 23-man shortlist.
Nov 26, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Can Liverpool build off this draw in Sofia? Their manager Brendan Rodgers has cause for optimism.
Nov 26, 2014, 5:21 PM EST
All the action from the penultimate games in Groups A-D, as two teams booked their spot in the last 16.
Nov 26, 2014, 5:19 PM EST
The raid on Southampton continues, as their recruiting guru heads to Spurs.
Nov 26, 2014, 4:43 PM EST
It was an upbeat display from the Gunners, who move on to the Champions League knockout stage.
Nov 26, 2014, 4:42 PM EST
Reds cough up late goal, but can still advance to the last 16 of the UCL with a win over Basel in their final group game.
Nov 26, 2014, 4:10 PM EST
Watch Ronaldo go level with Raul as he puts some pressure on Messi.
Nov 26, 2014, 3:41 PM EST
Good start for the Arsenal, scoring early through Yaya Sanogo.
Nov 26, 2014, 3:10 PM EST
As Tottenham continue to struggle, Mauricio Pochettino believes his team needs more rest between competitions.
Nov 26, 2014, 2:27 PM EST
The Zenit skipper earned three points for the home side as Benfica’s Champions League dreams ended in St. Petersburg.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EST
Follow all the action from the UCL’s eight games on Wednesday, right here.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:13 PM EST
Former Reds’ goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had some choice words for the struggling Simon Mignolet as Liverpool’s tumultuous season continues.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:29 PM EST
The Bayern star was outshone by Sergio Aguero’s hat trick in Munich’s 3-2 loss to Manchester City.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Stoke City will be without their on-loan winger as the Nigerian international is sidelined with a thigh injury.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:45 AM EST
Rog and Davo scrutinize Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and welcome Kyle Martino to the pod.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:19 AM EST
Eight Champions League matches take place today as Arsenal and Liverpool both look to rebound from Premier League losses.
Nov 26, 2014, 9:25 AM EST
Spanish defender Sergio Ramos questioned some players loyalty to the national team, which didn’t sit well with Cesc Fabregas.
Nov 26, 2014, 8:35 AM EST
The Aston Villa striker will be looking for minutes as he heads down the ranks to the Championship on a one-month loan.
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