Mourinho: ‘We’d exchange Europa League cup for victims’ lives’
|MANCHESTER UNITED||AJAX AMSTERDAM|
Paul Pogba (18'), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (48')
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said his side would give up their Europa League trophy if it would bring back the 22 victims of Monday’s terror attack in Manchester.
United beat Ajax 2-0 in Stockholm on Wednesday (May 24) to win the Europa League for the first time, but the game was overshadowed by the deadly suicide attack on concert-goers at Manchester Arena, which also left dozens injured.
“If we could, we would obviously change the people’s lives for this cup, immediately,” Mourinho told reporters at the Friends Arena.
“We wouldn’t think twice. Does this cup make the city of Manchester a little bit happier? Maybe. But we just came to do our job.
“We came without the happiness we should bring with us, because when you come for these big matches, you come happy, you come proud. And we didn’t. we just came to do our job.”
A night that began with a moment of silence, then applause, in memory of the 22 people who died at Manchester Arena on Monday ended with United completing their trophy collection through goals from French midfielder Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Reminders of the attack were everywhere at Stockholm’s Friends Arena, from United’s black armbands to the chants of “ Manchester!” from their fans, while Pogba, too, was grieving, following the recent death of his father.
Mourinho agreed with European governing body UEFA’s decision to allow the match to go ahead, but said the victory would always be associated with sad thoughts about what happened in Manchester.
“It’s really hard,” said the Portuguese, whose pre-match press conference on Tuesday was cancelled.
“That’s why yesterday we didn’t want to have the press conference because we had to prepare ourselves to do our job and to try to forget events that are obviously much more important than our job.
“But the world goes on. It doesn’t stop and we have to do our work. I agree with the UEFA decision to play the match.
“But if we have questions like your questions that made us return to this tragedy, obviously it takes happiness from our achievement.”
‘Win this for them’
Pogba, who opened the scoring in the game, dedicated the triumph to the victims, saying: “We played for the people who died.”
“These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris,” said Pogba, who was also playing at the Stade de France on the night of the November 2015 Paris terror attacks.
“We went out focused to win and we won for Manchester and the country,” he told BT Sport.
“We played for England, we played for Manchester and we played for the people who died.”
United fan favourite Ander Herrera, voted man of the match, echoed Pogba’s words.
“I want to dedicate the trophy to the victims,” the Spanish midfielder told a press conference.
“Yesterday morning we were devastated. We were really, really sad. It was really, really difficult to train.
“But the manager told us the only thing we could do was to win this for them and that’s what we’ve done.”
Spain international Juan Mata said: “We have won a trophy the club has never won, so we are really happy.
“It means a lot as it is my first European trophy with United and after what happened yesterday, it is nice to bring a trophy back for Manchester.
“It has been a really difficult week in the city of Manchester and we are happy to win for all the people that have suffered.”
Victory enabled United manager Jose Mourinho, who said prior to the game that he and his players were struggling not to think about the tragedy, to bring his maiden Old Trafford season to a successful conclusion.
He had already guided United to glory in the League Cup and despite a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, success in the Europa League means his side will return to the Champions League next season.
United became only the fifth club – after Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Chelsea – to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Mourinho, a UEFA Cup winner with Porto in 2003 and two-time European champion, has now won all four of the major European finals he has contested.
Ajax were appearing in their first continental showpiece match since the 1996 Champions League decider and fielded a team with an average age of 22 years and 282 days – the youngest to have ever started a major European final.
Peter Bosz’s effervescent team caused United some uncomfortable moments, but without ever threatening to pull off an upset.
Denied a glorious homecoming by a serious knee injury, United’s Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was present instead as a spectator to see his current side take on the team where he made his name.
Pogba put a volley fractionally wide in the first minute and in the 18th minute he found the target, albeit with a helping hand.
From Marouane Fellaini’s lay-off, the French midfielder let fly with a left-foot shot that flicked off Davinson Sanchez’s left foot and looped past Ajax’s helplessly wrong-footed goalkeeper Andre Onana.
It was the biggest return yet on United’s world-record £89.3 million (S$160.5 million) investment in Pogba, who celebrated by pointing to the sky.
Moments later, Antonio Valencia stung Onana’s palms after a raid down the United right.
The English side then took their foot off the pedal, enabling Ajax to start finding space in dangerous areas, but within three minutes of kick-off in the second half they had tightened their grip on the game.
Juan Mata’s corner from the right was headed down by Chris Smalling and with his back to goal, Mkhitaryan held off Joel Veltman to flick the bouncing ball past Onana and claim his sixth goal in the competition.
Onana was called upon to field a header from Fellaini and United goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved from substitute Donny van de Beek.
But there was little to worry United’s fans, who continued to defiantly chant the name of their grief-stricken city as the final whistle neared. - AFP