Man Utd dedicate Europa League win to terror victims

Jose Mourinho hails a victory for pragmatism over poetry as United secure a second trophy and Champions League football

Manchester United, Europa League, 2017
Wayne Rooney celebrates winning the Europa League with former club Manchester United
(Image credit: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images )

Manchester United 2 Ajax 0

Goals in each half from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan eased Manchester United to glory in the final of the Europa League in what's been a traumatic week for their city.

Against the backdrop of Monday night's terror attack at the Manchester Arena that claimed the lives of 22 people, United switched the spotlight back to football for 90 minutes before dedicating the victory to the victims.

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"We had to focus, it was very important," said Pogba, who opened the scoring for United on 18 minutes when his shot found the net thanks to a deflection off Davinson Sanchez. "We won for Manchester, we worked for them, for the country. We play for England, for Manchester and for the people who died."

Ander Herrera, voted the man of the match in a game that United dominated against their inexperienced opponents, echoed Pogba’s sentiments.

"Yesterday morning we were devastated," he said. "We were really sad because you think of life and football - you have no choice. It was difficult to train but the manager told us the only thing we could do is win this for them and that is what we have done. It is just a football game and a trophy but if we can help and support with this just one per cent it is enough for us."

The trophy caps a strange seasons for United. Although they finished sixth in the league, way off the pace set by Chelsea, they have won the league cup and the Europa League, albeit playing a style of football that was hardly eye-catching. Most importantly, however, Wednesday night's victory means that they will compete in next season’s Champions League.

"I'm really happy with the players in probably my most difficult season as a manager," said Mourinho, who has won four league titles, two Champions League crowns and now the Europa League during his 17 years in management.

"To me it is the most important trophy of my career because it is the last, that is how I look at things. Of course, Champions League is bigger than Europa League but that is the last trophy and that is when the feelings are under the skin and obviously it is a fantastic feeling for the team. It means everything."

Mkhitaryan's goal from a corner on 48 minutes killed off the Dutch side and Ajax coach Peter Bosz admitted his young side had been overwhelmed by the occasion. "It was a boring game," he said. "I'm disappointed because you play finals to win them. We didn't. I haven't seen the Ajax that I'm used to."

Praising the character of his players after a long and arduous season in which they've played 64 games, Mourinho was happy to concede that United's pragmatism had conquered Ajax's poetry.

"We were much stronger than them," he said of an Ajax side with an average of 22 years and 282 days. "There are lots of poets in football, but poets don't win many titles. We knew where they were better than us, we knew where we were better than them. We tried to kill their good qualities, we tried to explore their weaknesses. We did this very, very well since the first minute and we totally deserved the trophy."

Pogba epitomises sluggish Man Utd as they face youthful Ajax

24 May

Manchester United play their 64th and final game of the season tonight in Stockholm against Ajax and it's by far their most important.

It's not so much that the Europa League is at stake - although should the Red Devils win they will have won all three European titles in their various guises - it's more the place in next season's Champions League.

Having finished sixth in the Premier League, United will be joining Arsenal in next season's Europa League if they lose to Ajax. That prospect alone should be enough to spur on Jose Mourinho's men after a season in which they've struggled to find much rhythm under their new manager.

No one epitomises this sluggishness as much as Paul Pogba, the French midfielder who arrived at Old Trafford last summer in a record £89m transfer from Juventus. Pogba has shown little of the spark that prompted United to pay out the vast sum despite the fact he's played more minutes - 2,087 - than any other outfield United player.

Ruud Gullit, the former Dutch and Chelsea midfielder who is now assistant manager of the Netherlands national side, certainly believes that Pogba has been a flop for United this season.

"Pogba has made no impression at all in England," he said, adding that he didn't believe Ajax "have to be concerned by him right now".

There are suggestions Pogba is struggling to shake off a tight hamstring, which would be a blow for United who are already without Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young.

Ajax, who finished in second in the Dutch league behind Feyenoord, are without the suspended left-back Nick Viergever and it's expected that Lasse Schone will be the only player over 25 in their starting line-up. Given also that Ajax have played eight games fewer this season than their opponents tonight, fatigue could be an important factor in determining the outcome of the final.

Then again, United have experience in their favour and coach Peter Bosz acknowledged nerves will be present in the Ajax dressing room. "It would be remarkable if they didn't feel nervousness," said Bosz. "I know they are young and we have to help them but we have been preparing for this game since our semi-final win against Lyon."

What is important, said Bosz, is that his side play the same attacking and adventurous football that has brought them to this point. "We only have a chance of beating Manchester United if we play our own game, which we have developed this season and which I like to call the Ajax way of playing," he said. "It is romantic but it all depends on how strong they are. We are dealing with two different styles and we will see which style of playing comes out on top."

Ajax should not be allowed in Europa League, says Mourinho

19 May

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has "has stoked the fires" ahead of the Europa League final next week and declared Ajax should not be in the competition.

The Dutch team entered the second-tier tournament after being knocked out of the Champions League in a play-off last August, but Mourinho said he "disagreed" with the idea of teams being parachuted into the Europa League, reports the Daily Telegraph.

"The Europa League is for teams who go into the Europa League like us," he said. "We finished fifth last season and we went to the Europa League. We start the Europa League from the beginning of the season and we have to fight to where we are."

Ajax were "a Champions League team", he said, despite the fact they have played as many games as United in the competition this season.

Mourinho appeared to be in a "dark" mood, says Ian Herbert of The Independent, and "did not look enthused about the final". Instead he focused on his team's "unbelievable" workload in recent months.

However, if his ploy was designed to put off Ajax, it might not have worked. Peter Bosz, coach of the Dutch team, said his squad was smaller and younger than Mourinho's and have played almost as many games this campaign - 56 to United's 64.

And he "reckons it's Mourinho and his galaxy of millionaire stars who will feel all the pressure next Wednesday as they look to rescue an underwhelming season with a Euro win", reports the Daily Mirror.

Bosz also said that despite both teams' European pedigree, United are by far the bigger club.

He has a point, says Jonathan Liew of The Telegraph. "The gulf between the two is certainly sizeable. United have spent more on transfers in the last three years than Ajax have in their history. Ajax's record signing - Miralem Sulejmani at £13m - is around a third of what United could end up paying to agent Mino Raiola for securing the transfer of Paul Pogba last summer.

"But despite that, Bosz said Ajax would play their way: fluid, attacking football, in accordance with the club's hallowed traditions."

Europa League victory worth £38m to Man United players

16 May

Next week's Europa League cup final will be worth £38m to the Manchester United squad - and most players are in line for a 25 per cent pay rise if they qualify for the Champions League.

Such financial rewards "make it the most lucrative match ever staged for a single squad", reports The Times.

"United's contracts assume that they are always in Europe's premier club competition, and all players who are paid more than £20,000 a week are docked 25 per cent of their salary if they fail to qualify."

That applies to 22 members of the first-team squad who have spent this season on starvation rations after finishing fifth under Louis van Gaal last season.

Victory in the Europa League and a place in the Champions League would earn them an extra £28m in total next season.

Summer signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly are in a different situation. They did not have wage cuts this season but will collectively lose £9m next term if United fail to beat Ajax.

Only two players' salaries will be unaffected by the result: Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe, who earn less than the £20,000-a-week threshold, reports the Times.

However, they still have plenty of motivation as there is a £1m bonus to be shared among the entire squad if they win the league.

When the financial rewards of victory are added up, they total around £38m. "The final in Stockholm has effectively produced the biggest players' bonus pool in history," adds the paper.

Defeat to Ajax would also hit United's commercial operation in the pocket as it would mean a drop in sponsorship money from Adidas.

"A clause in their £75m-a-season contract with the sportswear giant stipulates a 30 per cent cut - worth around £22.5m - if they fail to make the Champions League for two consecutive seasons," says the Daily Mail.

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