Treble winner Dwight Yorke has claimed Manchester United ’s Stockholm showdown with Ajax is Jose Mourinho’s 1999 Champions League moment.
Former Old Trafford hero Yorke reckons this Europa League final is a defining moment for Mourinho and his stars – and every bit as vital as that night at the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich 18 years ago that clinched a history-making Treble.
And Yorke reckons it’ll be a huge blow for United if they fail to win in Sweden and miss out on a Champions League place next season.
No-one knows better than Yorke the effect victory over the Germans had on United and many still believe it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest hour.
“This game is as important as the ’99 final, but for different reasons. We were creating history, to do something at the club nobody had been able to do,” said Yorke, speaking exclusively to 888sport.
“But in terms of laying down the foundations and moving forward for this club that has not done anything meaningful in the Champions League for three seasons, this is so crucial.
“To see the likes of Liverpool and Spurs in the Champions League and not Manchester United would be a massive blow to the club. They have fallen short in the Premier League, there is no two ways about that, and this is an enormous game for United.
“The importance of it is just beyond anything else because it will set the club up going forward to bring in the best players and that’s something they need to do.
“United have gone four seasons now without winning the league and for a club of their standards that is just not acceptable at all and considering the money they have spent this season to not end up in the Champions League will be a bitter blow.”
Yorke is worried that United’s ability to move forward and improve will be hampered if they lose to Ajax with big La Liga targets like Antoine Griezmann and Toni Kroos liable to look elsewhere if Mourinho doesn’t secure Champions League football.
“United have done it before, bringing in Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic without the Champions League and that is all well and good,” he said. “But we’ve been playing catch up now for three seasons and there is an urgent need to bring in quality players like Kroos and Griezmann.
“There is no question that if we’re not in the Champions League other clubs will be able to attract them quicker than us but we just have to go about our business.
“If we’re in the Champions League, we know that attracting players to Manchester United has never been an issue.”
Yorke formed a wonderful partnership with Andy Cole during his United career. And he’s urged Mourinho to splash out on Monaco striker Kylian M’Bappe – and unleash him with Marcus Rashford, who he predicts can go on to match Wayne Rooney’s career at Old Trafford.
“If I was Manchester United manager, I’d go and get Kylian M’Bappe, the young kid at Monaco. Second favourite I’d go for [Everton’s Romelu] Lukaku,” says Yorke. “Those are the two I’d look at.
“Then [Antoine] Griezmann or Gareth Bale or someone of that stature. Once we’ve got Champions League those are the best.
“Certainly that M’Bappe kid. Him and Rashford would run riot. You’d just let them play.
“Rashford has done wonders to come from where he was to where he is today. He has burst onto the scene and is emerging from the shadow of Zlatan. Zlatan was only going to be here for a short amount of time but Rashford would have learned from him and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be the main man eventually.
“Whether that is next season or the season after [I don’t know], because we have to remember that he’s still young and at that development stage. I expect him to play more regularly next season because he’s a threat and he’s a goal-scorer.
“When you see what the likes of Rooney has achieved he will be in that category without a doubt though he’s more in the Andy Cole mould in that he likes to get into the box and run past defenders.”
* Dwight Yorke predicts Man United 2-1 Ajax in the Europa League Final which is available at 15/2 with 888sport. New customers can treble the odds. T&Cs apply. Odds subject to change.
Read the full 888sport interview with Yorke, including his verdict on Paul Pogba’s first season at United.