Red Devils claim treble and Champions League spot
Manchester United beat Ajax 2-0 to win first Europa League title
|Paul Pogba 18, Henrikh Mkhitaryan 48|
After the final whistle, Jose Mourinho urged his players to hold up three fingers to represent the number of trophies he had won in his first season with Manchester United.
Some hilariously ignored him, some, like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, indulged him.
The Manchester terror attack that killed 22 people on Monday (May 22) will prevent United from fully enjoying their Europa League success, but the "treble" of Europe's second-tier competition, along with the League Cup and Community Shield hardly compares with the 1999 haul of the Champions League, EPL and FA Cup titles.
It must be said, however, that the one-sided 2-0 victory over Ajax in the Europa League final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Thursday (Singapore time) is far from meaningless.
As Mourinho would have everyone know at the post-match press conference: "It means a third trophy, it means a European trophy, it means going back to the Champions League, it means a UEFA Super Cup match against the Champions League winners in August.
"It means the last piece of the puzzle now that we win every trophy in the world of (club) football, it means a lot to me and the boys and the supporters... we qualify for the Champions League by winning a trophy and not by finishing second, third or fourth.
"(After the terror attack), we come without the happiness that we should bring with us because when you go for these big matches, you go happy, you go proud, and we didn't, we just come to do our jobs.
"And the boys were fantastic because they put a wall in front of their eyes and they stayed isolated from everything and they focused on the football match, which I think we played really, really well and the boys deserved the win."
Mourinho had played a big gamble in his bid to drag a post-Alex Ferguson United back among Europe's elite, giving up the fight for fourth place in the Premier League that would have also secured Champions League qualifications.
Instead, he threw all his eggs into the Europa League basket, and now, the Portuguese is vindicated.
It was literally boys against men as Ajax manager Peter Bosz named a starting XI with an average age of 22.2, sending on three 20-year-old substitutes in his attempt to salvage the final, while United's average age was 27.1.
The Dutch team suffered stage fright, big time, as their swashbuckling brand of football was nowhere to be found.
Their defence was naive, passes went astray, and the highly-rated Kasper Dolberg barely had a sniff at goal.
Ajax manager Peter Bosz said: "I didn't see the Ajax I'm used to, which means playing good football, high pressing, and being dominant.
"We didn't have many chances today, and we were not good enough."
The Red Devils hardly raised the entertainment value themselves, but in an efficient manner typical of Mourinho's teams, they did enough to add another trophy to their burgeoning cabinet.
In a city that had suffered a terror attack just last month when five were killed, Pogba had his own tale of triumphing in tragedy, after he scored in the 18th minute as his shot took a heavy deflection off Davinson Sanchez to wrongfoot Andre Onana.
The world's most expensive footballer duly pointed to the skies to dedicate his goal to his father who died two weeks ago.
With Ajax incapable of troubling Sergio Romero, United took just three minutes after the restart to double their tally. Chris Smalling flicked on Juan Mata's corner for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to score via an overhead kick.
United midfielder Ander Herrera, who picked up the Man of the Match award for bossing the engine room, said: "We performed like a big club - very serious, very smart, against a very good team.
"We know we could have done better in the league, but to finish three trophies is fantastic. Three titles, Champions League football next season, now we can say we have a great season, and the fans can be happy."
Few among the United faithful will disagree, but only time will tell if Mourinho and his merry men can attain more and bigger success in the seasons to come.
AJAX: Andre Onana, Joel Veltman, Davinson Sanchez, Matthijs de Ligt, Jairo Riedewald (Frenkie de Jong 82), Davy Klaassen, Lasse Schone (Donny van de Beek 70), Hakim Ziyech, Bertrand Traore, Kasper Dolberg (David Neres 62), Amin Younes.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Sergio Romero, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata (Wayne Rooney 90), Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Jesse Lingard 74), Marcus Rashford (Anthony Martial 84).