Romero: We want to reclaim Europa League
The last time Manchester United entered the Europa League, the campaign culminated with an emotional triumph in Stockholm, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero centre stage.
The experienced Argentinian started all nine of our European knockout games that season, including the final against Ajax in Sweden, where the Reds emerged comfortable 2-0 victors.
We caught up with Sergio earlier this week to both reflect on that important success in 2017 and look ahead to this season’s competition, which begins in earnest on Friday when our group-stage opponents will be determined at the draw in Monaco…
We will find out this week who we will face in the Europa League – cup draws are always exciting aren’t they?
"In this competition it’s always uncertain because of the short and long journeys to different places. It will be a challenge to try to repeat the victory again in this competition. This club always needs to do well, wherever we play."
We could face a number of different teams – are there any you’ll be particularly looking out for?
"I do not have any team in particular I would like to play against. When you play in Europe, every team is going to be a difficult one. There are no easy teams in European competitions. Every team who participates in this competition wants to do well and wants to win. The team, the players, everyone wants to play in European competition and, of course, wants to win it."
Romero started all of our knockout games in 2016/17, making a vital last-gasp save at the end of the tie against Rostov.
We won the tournament in 2016/17 – what are your memories of that fantastic run we had?
"The Europa League is a really nice competition and being part of it is really good. I remember playing away in Holland, France, Russia… when you go out of the UK, and go to play to different places, it's always something nice and something different."
You played throughout the knockout stages after Christmas – what game sticks out for you as your favourite, apart from the final, of course?
"All the games are important but I remember the one we played in Rostov was a very challenging one, because the conditions of the pitch weren’t very good and it was below the standards you will expect for this competition. I also remember when we played in France as well."
What pleased you most about your form that season?
"For me, the fact I was playing and to feel the confidence of my team-mates and the manager helped me out a lot. I am so lucky that everyone at the club is great to me and it always helps, even more because I wasn’t playing a lot, at this moment in time, in the other competitions."
We had some great results away from home in the knockout stages. What’s the key to handling those matches away from home?
"The most important thing [when you go away from home] is to know what we want to do as a team and to have a plan in place. We have to make ourselves strong enough as a team, have our identity and have a plan."
What are your memories of the final? We always looked in control…
"I remember Ajax of Amsterdam had a very young team. Nearly all of their players were very young, without much experience in European competitions. On the other hand, we had more experience in Europe as a team, knowing all the time what to do in every phase of the game. We prepared for all the games very well and we all knew what we had to do at all times."
We scored at important times in the match – was that key?
"If you watch the final, we were always very calm, trying to follow the plan that we had and following our idea of how to play this game. We never lost concentration during this game and we never got influenced by the excitement of the supporters."
Marcos Rojo celebrates with Sergio after victory over Ajax in Stockholm.
What did the victory mean to you personally?
"The victory, for me, was a massive relief because I wasn’t playing a lot in the Premier League and other competitions. I only played in the cup and thanks to the confidence the manager deposited in me, it was a very positive thing for me. Also, scoring first – it was very important. Overall, it was a really nice final."
Of course, the prize isn’t just the trophy – it’s a spot in the Champions League. So it’s certainly a great competition to win isn’t it?
"The chances of ending in the top four were very difficult because we were losing matches at this point. The second option that we had was to focus on winning the final of the Europa League, as the easiest way to get direct access in the next year’s Champions League, knowing that it wouldn’t be very easy to win the final, but we did it."
How determined is everyone to do well again this season?
"We have a great team, we have a great manager and everyone at this club wants to do well. This is another year, another season where we start from zero and we have to be at our best. This club, because of its history, deserves to win always. We, as a team, have to work very hard, help each other and go the extra mile."
It will give the manager a good opportunity to utilise his squad…
"September is going to be a very busy month with all the Premier Leagues matches, this cup and other competitions. For the players like me, who don’t play that often, it’s going to be a really good challenge to prove to our manager that we are ready to compete and to help when the team needs it."
What experience will you draw upon from playing in the competition in the 2016/17 campaign?
"My experience tells me that, in these competitions, there are no easy teams and also that nobody is going to give you anything for free. It is a competition where, to reach the final, it is going to be very difficult but we will give our best."
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