Thursday 25 May 2017

United win season defining match in the shadow of tragedy

Jose Mourinho's first season at the helm would come down to the 64th and final game of a testing and gruelling campaign in Stockholm.

In a game played with a backdrop of unspeakable tragedy that rendered this match irrelevant - but also so much more important - in so many ways, it was still one that would define how both Jose and the team's season would be judged upon.

Defeat to Ajax in the Europa League final, sixth place in the league and only an EFL Cup to show for it, would count as a failure given expectations and expenditure after being appointed as Louis van Gaal's successor.

If United won then Mourinho would be seen as the man who once more guarantees success with two major trophies secured and a place back at Europe's top table in the Champions League.

As he has done so many times before, Jose took the winning option as United overpowered a talented but lightweight Ajax side to give the season, and thousands of celebrating Reds, a warmer glow.

It also provided a mourning and heartbroken city with cause for a measured and respectful outpouring of joy after 22 people were killed and many more injured at the Arena only 48 hours before.

This was a night high on emotion following those tragic events in Manchester and also an occasion in which Mourinho's bond with the United fans was sealed. 

He has occasionally looked a man ill at ease, not helped by a mixed bag of performances and results.

Jose gambled on winning this trophy to get us back into the Champions League, viewing a tournament win as more noteworthy than merely finishing third or fourth in the league.

The fight for a place in the league's top four was given up weeks ago as he concentrated on a tournament that he once derided to win a spot against Europe's elite.

It was a gamble that paid off and one that means the club's summer strategy can be built around transfer targets that we can afford and also offer the lure of the Champions League again.

We still managed to sign Paul Pogba for a world record fee and added the coup of Zlatan Ibrahimovic without that enticement last summer.

But Mourinho and the club's decision makers knew that an offer without Europe's top level tournament would result in diminishing returns - both financially and personnel. 

Victory over Ajax was always going to be crucial for Mourinho's short-term ambitions, and he can now plan for the future with optimism. 

The prospect of signing much-linked number one target Antoine Griezmann would have been non existent without the Champions League, but hopes of landing the French international are now significantly enhanced. 

This was not just a match for Mourinho's standing and reputation, the stakes were incredibly high for our team and the city - and the players did not let us down. 

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