Football: Euphoria for Mourinho

Jose Mourinho (centre) celebrates with coaching staff after winning the Uefa Europa League.
Jose Mourinho (centre) celebrates with coaching staff after winning the Uefa Europa League.PHOTO: EPA

United return to Champions League after win against Ajax adds lustre to manager's season

STOCKHOLM • There was a moment at the final whistle when Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho went looking for someone.

The 2-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League final on Wednesday at the Friends Arena in Stockholm had come to mean so much to the club that three of their injured players - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly - had just attempted to sprint to the centre-circle on crutches.

Then Mourinho saw his son, the modestly named Jose Jr, and suddenly man and boy were rolling around the pitch.

These were euphoric scenes and, though it has been a harrowing few days given the Manchester terror bombing, the celebrations at the end went a long way to answering the question about whether a football team from the city can consider this a happy ending to the season.

Mourinho could even be seen kissing a trophy he once felt was beneath him.

It completes the set for United, the only trophy they had never won before, and changes the complexion of how their season will be remembered.

Mourinho, who has received criticism over the quality of United's football and sixth-place finish in the Premier League, has won 12 of his 14 finals as a manager and two in one season is more than some of United's rivals have managed in the past decade.

He even tried to make a case that it was even more, telling his players not to forget the Community Shield and instructing them to hold up three fingers as they waited to lift their latest prize.

It means United, who also won the League Cup, will return to the Champions League next season but, more than anything perhaps, it also presented an opportunity to dedicate the prize to their city.

The backdrop to this final had been difficult in the extreme but, as Mourinho said, United had a job to do and they went about it with all the qualities that would usually be associated with one of his teams.

Granted, that does not mean the exhilarating football of the great United sides, leaving the Ajax coach, Peter Bosz, to make a number of pithy remarks about long-ball tactics and the difference in terms of size and physicality.

That, however, seems like a debate for another day, bearing in mind everything that happened in Manchester on Monday. "We want to dedicate it to all the victims," midfielder Ander Herrera said. "The manager told us the only thing we could do was win it for them."

It culminated with Wayne Rooney running on as a last-minute substitute so he was in place to lift the trophy that had come their way because of the goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

If this was Rooney's goodbye, it was a nice way to go and none of those players cavorting about the pitch will care that Bosz called it a "boring game".

The only negative aspects were the conduct of the Ajax fans who tore up seats at the final whistle and Herrera's attempt to get an opponent sent off by pretending he had been felled by a headbutt.

That apart, United can reflect on a hugely satisfactory night and Mourinho can hardly be blamed for taking advantage of the fact he had the bigger and more experienced players.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Euphoria for Mourinho'. Print Edition | Subscribe