Manchester United have been crowned winners of the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League.
The Reds have now completed the set of major trophies in the club’s illustrious history and secured a coveted place in next season’s Champions League.
Paul Pogba’s deflected strike in the first half and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s flicked finish early in the second period gave United a 2-0 win in the final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
It was the perfect end to a mammoth 64-game season and a long journey in the competition for United, which has consisted of 15 matches and trips to eight different cities.
The success in Sweden means Jose Mourinho has won three competitions in his first season in charge at Old Trafford after lifting the Community Shield last August and EFL Cup in February – both at Wembley.
United will now face either Juventus or Real Madrid – who meet each other in the Champions League final in Cardiff on 3 June – in the UEFA Super Cup on 8 August at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia.
The Reds have become only the fifth team to win all three of the major European honours on offer – the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the European Cup/Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League – after Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus and this year’s final opponents AFC Ajax.
FA Cup Victory Would Be Perfect Point For Manchester United To Say Ta-Ra To Louis Van Gaal
It’s very rare that managers leave their clubs at a point that’s right for both parties. Usually either the club want them to stay, or the manager doesn’t want to go but is shown the door because of poor results.
But if Manchester United were to beat Crystal Palace on Saturday to win the FA Cup then they’ll have stumbled upon the perfect moment to terminate Louis Van Gaal’s contract while also allowing the Dutch manager to leave with his head held high.
At the moment, Louis Van Gaal insists that he’ll still be Manchester United’s manager come the start of next season. But he’ll be more than aware of the rising discontent at Old Trafford, while he’ll also know that finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on Champions League football is not good enough for a club of United’s size.
But if Manchester United were to win the FA Cup and then Van Gaal was to depart, he could insist that he’d returned the club to winning ways while they could then set about trying to appoint the right man to get them back amongst the European elite.
To be fair to Louis Van Gaal that’s not too far from the truth. Obviously missing out on the Champions League was a huge step back, but if you look at the current United team you can see Van Gaal’s impact.
Not only have United been extremely solid in defence – conceding the joint least amount of Premier League goals in the 2015/2016 season – but with David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford United now have a core of exciting young players that have established themselves as regulars. The progress has just been too slow though.
As Leicester City sensationally proved over the last 12 months, with one or two pinpoint purchases and the appointment of the right manager, there’s every chance that could United could still make startling improvement next season.
But after Manchester United didn’t get into the top 4 when it was really there for the taking and having spent over £250 million over the last two seasons rather poorly, Louis Van Gaal can no longer be trusted to move the club forward.
While a defeat to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final would see Van Gaal depart to a chorus of vitriol from rightfully infuriated Manchester United fans, victory would provoke a celebration that’d briefly erase the memories of the tedious play that they’ve had to endure for long spells of his tenure.
It would also leave enough room for Manchester United to say a genial goodbye to Louis Van Gaal, before they then quickly moved ahead to, hopefully, a brighter future.