United win the Europa League.

Europa League triumph of 2017 transcended football

Wednesday 01 April 2020 13:59

None who made it to Stockholm, Sweden, for Manchester United's 2017 Europa League final against Ajax of Amsterdam are ever likely to forget it.

It was a remarkable few days, for reasons both terrible and transcendent, even if the game itself was relatively forgettable.
As any historically clued-up Red will tell you, when we win European titles, we rarely do it easily. But here, uncharacteristically, was a straightforward victory, orchestrated by the tactical assuredness of Jose Mourinho.
An early goal from Paul Pogba settled any lingering nerves. Another soon after half-time from Henrikh Mkhitaryan extended the comfort.
Classic Match: 2017 Europa League final Video

Classic Match: 2017 Europa League final

Goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan secured our 2017 Europa League final victory over Ajax in Stockholm...

So precise and scientific was Mourinho's plan – with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera among its most notable administrators – that Ajax were metaphorically sent into a kind of tranquilised reverie.
Like a sedated hospital patient, they were technically involved in the procedure. But someone else was calling the shots.
And I don't know about how other Reds felt in the Friends Arena that night, but I was, for once, delighted that United weren't involved in a swashbuckling final. I don't think our collective hearts could have stomached it that night. We'd already been through the ringer enough that week. 
All anyone wanted was to be together and do something normal: in our case, following and supporting United.
The night before we flew out to Scandinavia, the most terrible flow of news began in Manchester. By the next morning we all knew that many people had been murdered at an Ariana Grande concert at the Arena.
As we left for the airport, we felt strange – travelling across the continent for a football match felt ridiculously indulgent at that moment. The city was still shellshocked and living in fear.
When we arrived in Stockholm late that night, there was a quiet atmosphere. The city seemed full of Ajax fans at the point. It was 10 Euros for a beer and everything seemed to shut at midnight.
Ander Herrera's performance earned him the UEFA Man-of-the-Match award.
Thankfully, the next day we were greeted by beautiful sunshine, and plane-loads of Reds arrived on numerous day trips, both official and unofficial.
Everyone was still uncertain, and the tone was relaxed and low key. The match and the prospect of victory seemed almost incidental. All that mattered was that we were there, carrying on as normal, representing our city and our football club, and trying to have fun – in defiance of that brutal act that sought to terrify and confine us.
It turned into a glorious afternoon, full of friends, flags, songs. As the game approached, the desperation to win came from our love for our city as much as our football club when the moment finally arrived, on full-time, it felt special. Very different to past cup final victories, but satisfying and emotional.
For older Reds, it was doubly special. It was not lost on anyone that this trophy made United just the fifth club to win every European trophy. Many in the crowd with us in Solna that night had seen us win everything in a 26-year spell that had taken them all over Europe, all over the world.
Goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan earned United a 2-0 win over Ajax in the final.
It added some consolation to a nightmarish week for Manchester – there were even texts coming in from City fans that wished us well! Of course, football could never make up for the lives lost and the trauma suffered, but it hinted that life could go on, and joy would eventually emerge again. At the time, that was incredibly important to many people.
Does it compare to '68, '99 or '08, or that epic night in Rotterdam? Not from a sporting perspective.
But Stockholm and the night we "won it all" was about much more than United, about much more than football. It was about why the things that make us happy are so vital – something that I always try to remind myself of.
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