Another European final approaches, what could Gdansk mean for us?

Tuesday 25 May 2021 14:29

There's a picture on my wall of two United fans, grinning from ear-to-ear, running on green grass, trophy in hand. It's Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, swinging the Europa League trophy back in 2017.

They're having the time of their lives, representing Manchester in a difficult week for the city and representing it well, lifting silverware for their boyhood club.

On Wednesday evening, we'll hope for more scenes like that in Gdansk.

I remember being sat on a stupid-looking inflatable United armchair back in 2008, 'Road to Moscow' t-shirt on, with my family and a few other Reds, staying up well past my bedtime to watch us win the Champions League for the first time in my lifetime (I missed the Treble, thanks Mum, thanks Dad...).

I remember being with the same group of Reds nine years later as Marcus and Jesse ran around gleefully in Sweden, missing the potential trip to Stockholm because of exams. By then, football had become a different experience, as it does for us all, no longer about Shoot-Out cards and FIFA and more about going to games. We celebrated at home with beers and Swedish meatballs.

Full match: 2017 Europa League final Video

Full match: 2017 Europa League final

Missed our live stream? Watch the entire 2017 Europa League final here when you're ready...

Between those two successful finals in 2008 and 2017, United played some unbelievable football. I was pretending to be Wayne Rooney, wearing my T90s, and my brother and I tried to copy his goals down the park. We tried to do backwards headers like Chicharito while wishing we could backflip like Nani. While we were doing that, so were some of the players who'll represent United on Wednesday in Poland.

It might seem crazy to you that I can't remember the Treble, but it's true unfortunately. Neither can Mason Greenwood or Brandon Williams or Marcus Rashford or Axel Tuanzebe. This generation of United players are like me in that we grew up watching an all-conquering late 2000s United team with a world-class player in every position.

The current United side hasn't got to those same heights yet, but this season has shown we're on the right track. The team has got many of the same principles again, if not the consistency of quality. The comebacks this season are the best sign of that. Being at Bramall Lane a couple of years ago to see Brandon and Mason score in a dramatic comeback - albeit one soured by conceding a late equaliser - was special. Celebrating with Scott McTominay at the Etihad Stadium after one of the many recent wins there was special too.

Seeing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - the United striker I was raised to adore - walk over and applaud us returning fans at Old Trafford last week against Fulham, that too was special. When Ole came in as interim manager, we all had that same thought: 'imagine if he wins us a trophy'. We knew it would be special. Wednesday is a chance to see that.

Our press conference and training session in full Video

Our press conference and training session in full

📺 ESSENTIAL VIEWING 🔥 Ole, Bruno and Luke held a brilliant press conference, before a must-see training session...

It would represent progress, too, for this United side. It would be Ole's first silverware as manager but it would also be a first trophy at the club for Mason, Brandon and Axel, and even Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Edinson Cavani, three more senior players who have helped restore the strong connection between players and fans in the last two years.

It's a shame I can't make it to Gdansk, although I feel worse for the seasoned regulars at European finals who are having their long-standing records ended. For many, including me, the tests and quarantine requirements were just a bit too much, making the mad rush to renew my passport after a year of it being tucked in a drawer futile in the end. But like many others, I'll be watching in a pub, in Deansgate, Manchester, pretending, maybe, that I'm in a beautiful square in a beautiful European city (which Manchester is of course - when the sun's out) and hoping that this can be the start of a run of trophies for a developing side.

I'll be hoping, too, that some day soon, the streets of Deansgate will be filled with red again as these players create their own memories and their own legacies and they can tour through town in an open-top bus, dancing to ABBA next to Edi Cavani. For now, though, it's just about making memories on Wednesday night and enjoying the occasion.