Manchester United claimed their second major trophy of the season and secured Champions League football as they overcame Ajax to win the Europa League final in Stockholm yesterday.
On an emotional night following the attack which killed 22 people at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena on Monday, United’s fans were allowed a measure of celebration as Jose Mourinho’s side won in comfort.
Paul Pogba’s deflected shot put them ahead in the 18th minute and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s sixth Europa League goal of the campaign, flicked in from Chris Smalling’s header at a corner, confirmed they would add to the EFL Cup won against Southampton earlier this season.
Wayne Rooney made a brief appearance as a substitute with a minute left and the game won, being handed the captain’s armband by Antonio Valencia on what could well be his farewell appearance for United.
And as the final whistle sounded and United’s celebrations began, chants of “Manchester” rang around the Friends Arena in tribute to those who died and were injured in the attack which cast a shadow over this showpiece occasion.
Mourinho – who has so often looked so unhappy this season – ran on to the field to celebrate with his players and was thrown in the air by his coaching staff and hugged by his son.
It means United are now the fifth team to claim the full quota of European trophies, joining an illustrious list with Ajax, Chelsea, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Mourinho has had his moments of frustration this season – especially with 15 Premier League draws that led to an unsatisfactory sixth-place finish.
It left United’s Champions League hopes resting on this game but the win and subsequent qualification for the group stages of Europe’s elite tournament means that Mourinho can regard this season as a real success.
Some may question the quality of United’s performances and this undoubtedly remains a work in progress but two trophies and that place back in the Champions League is an impressive outcome, irrespective of the style in which it was achieved.
It was also a European final won without key defender Eric Bailly, who was suspended, and 28-goal leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who sustained a serious knee injury in the quarter-final win against Anderlecht at Old Trafford.
Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp have received much praise for their work this season and getting into next season’s Champions League – Mourinho has done that and added the actual tangible reward of two pieces of silverware on top.
Mourinho’s mood has often been dark this season but he still has that habit of dealing in his favourite currency, namely trophies.
And the result means United can, finally, regard their season as a successful one as a night which started with a mixture of silence then applause for those who died in Monday’s attack and ended with Wayne Rooney lifting the Europa League trophy on what is very likely to be his final appearance for the club.