Manchester United wins Europa League after winning 2-0 over Ajax

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is happy … Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

A season of false dawns and frustrations ended in deliverance for Manchester United, as they escaped the mediocrity of sixth place in the Premier League to qualify for the Champions League by winning the only trophy they had never won before, the Irish Times wrote.

Before this season Jose Mourinho had only spoken about the Europa League derisively – that it was a bad competition for a big club to be in, and so on. Last night the Europa League allowed him to salvage United’s season, it added.

United can seldom have played many more pivotal games. Win and the season is redeemed, while next season promises a return to the big time. Lose and the season has been a failure, next season a disappointment before it begins. It’s not simply a question of prestige, but also hard cash: United’s players are paid less if they miss out on the Champions League. Some of their better-paid players had seven-digit sums at stake on this result, according to the Irish Times.

That obviously produced a certain anxiety in the camp, which was evident in the demeanour of Mourinho, who spent much of the match pacing back and forth from dugout to sideline like a caged zoo animal. He reacted to the first goal by remaining motionless in his chair, but he grew increasingly animated as the game went on; in the last five minutes, with the result no longer in doubt, he was the most manic person in the stadium. At full-time, he rolled joyfully on the grass with his son, Jose Jr, Irish Times went on.

The game had not really been close, and yet it shouldn’t even have been as close as it was. This final pitted one of the biggest winners of the globalisation and financialisation of football against arguably the biggest losers. Two decades ago, Ajax could argue that they were a bigger club than United. They had four European Cups to the English side’s one. But every trend since then that has affected the economy of football – notably the explosive growth of TV rights revenues in the major markets, the EU rules on freedom of movement – has worked against them, and in United’s favour. United’s turnover is almost eight times that of Ajax, indicated the Irish Times.

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