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.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT
A new starter will have his chance to stake his claim, while another player will get more looks in camp with the third keeper’s role.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
The 35-year-old is taking a step back, making himself unavailable for selection until Sept. 2015.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:19 PM EDT
LMA statement: “These were two text messages sent in private at a time Malky felt under great pressure and when he was letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter.”
Aug 21, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Exciting attacker arrives at Loftus Road for the 2014-15 season.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Despite being eligible to play for his country, Suarez left off Uruguay’s roster.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Khedira turns down new deal at Real. Will the Spaniards cash in on him now?
Aug 21, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Former Liverpool star could be heading to United as Real Madrid seek to trim squad.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:16 AM EDT
Spurs boss in dramatic U-turn on Europa League after previously dismissing tournament.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Leiweke to leave MLSE, as leading sports executive calls it quits in Toronto.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
After trailing 3-1, LA came roaring back to win 4-3 as Donovan bagged the winner.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
Di Maria wants out of Real, will Manchester United be able to pounce for his signature?
Aug 21, 2014, 8:54 AM EDT
Moody, pictured center, has resigned from his role at Palace following damaging allegations.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:20 AM EDT
Liverpool, AC Milan agree Balotelli transfer as player, agent set to arrive at Anfield.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Monster moves rumored. Check out all the latest gossip, right here.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Both Ronaldo and Ramos have gone to Madrid president Florentino Perez to ask him to keep Di Maria.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet believes United States striker Jozy Altidore is the happiest he has ever seen him.
Malky Mackay and Iain Moody investigated by FA for ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ text messages while at Cardiff City
Aug 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Malky Mackay has been reported to the Football Association for being involved in a series of racist, sexist and homophobic text messages.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
If Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher showed up to your training to sign autographs, what would you ask him?
Aug 20, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Arteta’s status means that Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini will be the holding midfield partnership against the Turks.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Champions League play-offs continued on Wednesday with a series of tight contests headlined by a 1-0 victory for FC Porto at Lyon.
- Tim Howard taking a break from U.S. international duty 4
- Report: Xabi Alonso heading to Manchester United 6
- Mario Balotelli edging closer to shock $26 million Liverpool switch 16
- Thursday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Tiote to Arsenal, Destro to Chelsea 0
- Angel Di Maria gets love from Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Diego Simeone 2
- Jozy Altidore is the happiest he’s ever been, says Gus Poyet 3