Manchester United pulled together in their city’s time of darkness, showing skill and spirit to overcome Ajax and win the Europa League.
Less than 48 hours after a terror attack killed 22 people and injured many more at Manchester Arena, the club’s fans, players and staff stood unbowed in Stockholm.
United embraced the spirit shown in spades by the city they represent, with goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan securing a 2-0 triumph.
United’s first continental trophy in nine years brings with it Champions League qualification after a disappointing Premier League campaign, as well as a cathartic, if temporary, release for some.
Nerves were settled at the Friends Arena when Pogba – playing in his second match since his father Fassou Antoine died aged 79 – opened the scoring with a low shot that deflected in off Davinson Sanchez.
The goal was reward for a bright start that soon tapered off, only for Mourinho’s men to return impressively from the break as Mkhitaryan directed home acrobatically.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ajax’s callow side – the youngest ever in a major European final – were unable to find a way back as United added to this season’s EFL Cup and Community Shield triumphs.
Europa League glory means United join Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus as the only clubs to have won all three major UEFA trophies, including the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, as well as the Club World Cup or the Intercontinental Cup.
But after a tragic few days for their city, most important was their victorious show of defiance. Mourinho’s men wore black armbands in Stockholm, where a minute’s silence quickly turned into applause.
The final was United’s 64th match of a draining campaign, but there were surprisingly few signs of lethargy early on.
Pogba’s volley wide after 24 seconds was a shot across the bows for an Ajax defence dragged all over by Marcus Rashford. Ajax were relieved to see Juan Mata’s fizzing cross evade Marouane Fellaini before they flickered into life, with Sergio Romero, selected ahead of David De Gea, denying Bertrand Traore.
Yet hope was soon dampened as within minutes. Neat play down the right ended with Pogba collecting the ball on the edge of the box. The Frenchman opened up his body and took a low 20-yard shot that deflected off Sanchez, wrong-footing goalkeeper Andre Onana and rippling the back of the net.
Captain Antonio Valencia soon attempted to add to with a driving run and shot, before Ajax began to settle.
Daley Blind brought a timely end to a slaloming run by Traore as the Dutch side were afforded too much time in possession, but they lacked a cutting edge.
United re-grouped at the break and capitalised three minutes after the restart. Chris Smalling rose to meet a corner from the right, heading on for Mkhitaryan to smartly lift into the roof of the net in front of United’s raucous support.
Any building tension was released and Ajax struggled to respond.
Wayne Rooney came on for the dying embers and was handed the captain’s armband by Valencia, celebrating wildly with his team-mates at the final whistle.