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JOHN CROSS: Jose’s biggest ever gamble pays off as Man United boss ends season a winner…again

Date Posted,May 24, 2017

The biggest gamble of Jose Mourinho’s managerial career finally paid off.

Mourinho put everything, Manchester United’ s season and his reputation, on the Europa League and it came up trumps on an emotional night in Stockholm.

United’s celebrations after the final whistle showed how much it meant for the players as a tribute to Manchester after the terror attacks, how much they wanted this trophy to take back to their city.

The United players celebrated manically after the final whistle, they were lost in the moment and it is hard to remember Mourinho looking quite so passionate and jubilant.

It was a mixture of relief, pure joy and also, in typical Mourinho fashion, a defiant answer to everyone that has questioned him this season.

Jose Mourinho gestures (Photo: REUTERS)
Jose Mourinho and his son Jose Mario (Photo: Getty Images Europe)
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho celebrates (Photo: REUTERS)

Mourinho seemed to be making a point, the United fans chanting his name and maybe this week will really cement their relationship, going from tragedy and then to glory on the pitch.

Anything other than victory would have been unthinkable for Mourinho. Instead, Mourinho finishes the season with two pieces of silverware, the Europa League will sit alongside the League Cup in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.

Far more importantly it also provides a route back into the Champions League and now resting players, giving up on the top four to concentrate on the Europa League has reaped rewards.

We still expect United to be title challengers rather than also-rans who finish in sixth place, especially with Mourinho in charge.

But Mourinho has at least bought himself some time and credit in the bank to build a new empire and era of success at Old Trafford.

Manchester United players celebrate as they lift the UEFA Europa League trophy
Manchester United players celebrate as they lift the UEFA Europa League trophy (Photo: BPI/REX/Shutterstock)
Marouane Fellaini celebrates with The Europa League trophy
Marouane Fellaini celebrates with The Europa League trophy (Photo: Getty Images)
Paul Pogba celebrates scoring
Paul Pogba celebrates scoring (Photo: REUTERS)
Paul Pogba celebrates scoring with team mates
The Frenchman celebrates scoring with team mates (Photo: REUTERS)

The foundations without doubt will be laid around Paul Pogba who has endured a turbulent season himself both on and off the pitch.

But last night, United’s world record £89m midfielder showed his worth by delivering a midfield masterclass, scoring and then paid his own tribute by pointing to the heavens in memory of his late father Fassou Antoine who died earlier this month.

Big players step up in difficult moments as it is a test of their character and mentality. And it did feel United’s extra experience and pedigree told on the pitch because it was men against boys at times.

Ander Herrera and Amin Younes confront each other
Ander Herrera and Amin Younes confront each other (Photo: Getty Images)
Lasse Schone and Marouane Fellaini vie for the ball
Lasse Schone and Marouane Fellaini vie for the ball (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Paul Pogba points to the heavens after scoring (Photo: Getty)
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Ajax had plenty of possession but rarely laid a glove on United and it was Pogba more than anyone else who stood out in midfield. Pogba’s power and strength intimidating Ajax’s football purists.

Straight from the start, United looked far too good for Ajax. Pogba powerful, Marouane Fellaini menacing and Marcus Rashford with pace to burn up front.

United went ahead after 18 minutes as their big game pedigree swept Ajax aside. Rashford and Juan Mata combined down the right, Fellaini’s pass found Pogba on the edge of the box, the France midfielder worked himself half a yard of space to line up a shot.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores (Photo: REUTERS)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring the second goal with Paul Pogba
Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring the second goal with Paul Pogba (Photo: REUTERS)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring
Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring (Photo: Getty Images)

Pogba’s powerful drive defected Davinson Sanchez and it completely wrong footed Ajax keeper Andre Onana and flew into the net to the delight of the travelling United fans down the other end.

The goal relaxed United, they were in control and comfortable in defence. Just three minutes after the restart, United got their second.

Mata’s corner was head on by Chris Smalling and then Henrikh Mkhitaryan hooked home from close range. Mkhitaryan can be such a deeply frustrating player, he fades in and out but moments like those remind everyone of his quality.

Jesse Lingard of Manchester United is chased down (Photo: Getty)
Jose Mourinho reacts during the UEFA Europa League final (Photo: Getty)
Juan Mata lies injured
Juan Mata lies injured (Photo: REUTERS)

Ajax did their best in the second half to find a way back but United stood firm with keeper Sergio Romero equal to their efforts.

There was even some sentimentality. Mourinho sent on Wayne Rooney as a last minute substitute. Rooney took over the armband from Antonio Valencia, then lifted the trophy and if it proves to be his goodbye then it was one hell of a way to go.

The celebrations were wild at the end. Almost to prove a point after Mourinho’s hard luck stories about injured players, there were four players on crutches joining in the party. Eric Bailly, missing through suspension, chucked Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s crutches on the pitch to celebrate.

Everyone joined in and that said everything about the importance of victory for Manchester, the future for United and Mourinho who finishes the season as a winner again.

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