Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho declared his first season in charge of the club an overwhelming success after securing Champions League qualification with victory over Ajax in Wednesday's Europa League final.
Against the backdrop of Monday’s horrific terror attack in Manchester during which 22 people lost their lives, United sealed their place in the group stages of the continent’s premier club competition courtesy of strikes from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Old Trafford club would have missed out on £50m had they not reached the Champions League next term, while their 42nd piece of major silverware saw United become only the fifth side to claim a full quota of European trophies.
“It’s the end of a very difficult season but I think a very, very good season,” said Mourinho. “We prefer it this way than finish fourth, third or second [in the Premier League].
“We got the objective of the Champions League by winning a title. An important title which closes the lot. The club is now a club with every title in football and we are very happy because we fought very hard for this from the beginning.
“We had this in our minds and always thought we could win. We’re very happy.”
Mourinho held up three fingers at the final whistle, one for each trophy won this season after United followed up their Community Shield win in August with the EFL Cup and now the Europa League crowns. The Portuguese was also happy to rail against detractors of his pragmatic style of football employed at times this campaign. He added: “There are lots of poets in football but poets don’t win many titles.”
Midfielder Ander Herrera dedicated victory to the victims of Monday’s attack, insisting it was United’s duty to win for the people of Manchester. Mourinho said: “If we could we would change people’s lives for this cup – we wouldn’t think twice.”
United settled their nerves by seizing control of the clash inside 20 minutes courtesy of a fortuitous strike from Pogba. Intricate play around the edge of the Ajax penalty area ended with Pogba’s left-footed 20-yard shot from Marouane Fellaini’s square pass taking a pivotal deflection off Davinson Sanchez, which deceived goalkeeper Andre Onana.
The Red Devils doubled their lead shortly after half-time when former Borussia Dortmund winger Mkhitaryan acrobatically hooked a Chris Smalling downward header from Juan Mata’s corner beyond Onana.
Ajax, who were bidding to lift continental silverware for the first time since 1995, barely troubled United stopper Sergio Romero. Replacement Jesse Lingard hared clear in the dying stages but was outpaced by the impressive Sanchez, while Mourinho afforded Wayne Rooney his 559th, and perhaps final, United appearance from the bench late on.