Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire's reactions show how much Europa League final means to Manchester United

  Greenwood and Pogba emerge for training Man United players can see the Europa League trophy from their hotel but whatever happens in tonig...

 

Greenwood and Pogba emerge for training
Man United players can see the Europa League trophy from their hotel but whatever happens in tonight's final cannot dictate their plans for next season.

This morning, some Manchester United players will wake up, look out of their window and see the Europa League trophy. A giant replica of the Uefa Cup has been erected on the Most Krowi in Gdansk. It is illuminated at night and visible through the windows of some of the United players' hotel rooms.

United are staying by the picturesque marina, a mere eight-minute walk away from the bridge that English and Spanish fans are swarming to. Dozens of supporters mingled outside as the United coach staggered down the cobbled road of Szafarnia on Tuesday evening. Images of the United squad are pinned around the city and flags bearing crests of United and Villarreal decorate the highways.

Some of the staff at the stadium sport lanyards of 'Gdansk 2020'. United ended up in Cologne for the latter stages last August and, had they ended their semi-final hoodoo sooner, would have had the unfulfilling experience of a final in a crowdless stadium. At least 2,000 United fans will be inside Stadion Gdansk on Wednesday night.

Their official return (some flagrantly flew to Cologne) to the continent gives greater meaning to a final that had threatened to be hollow. Gdansk is similarly picturesque to Stockholm, the scene of United's last European final, staged in a sobering week following the Manchester Arena attack. The pandemic has prevented many United fans from seeing their team in the club's eighth European final.

Four years ago, it was all or nothing for United in Sweden. They had to beat Ajax to qualify for the Champions League and did so by completing the set in their trophy jigsaw. Lifting the Uefa Cup could hardly have been more fulfilling or emotional.

It is easy to deride the Europa League and United only fell into it through the Champions League group stage trapdoor. If it is listed among United's hand luggage back to Manchester it does not necessarily mean they are back.

But the club and the manager need to put an end to the term 'trophy drought'. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would bank more credits if he prevails in a final, even if it is in a competition his paymasters devalued.

Solskjaer and Luke Shaw strolled out onto the pitch together on Tuesday afternoon, the latter itching to play in his first final. Harry Maguire's eagerness was apparent when he was the second player off the team coach. Alas, he was unable to train.

That United's season does not necessarily hinge on beating Villarreal provides clarity. In 2017, Jose Mourinho compiled separate lists of transfer targets, depending on whether United were in the Champions League or the Europa League the next season. The aim for Solskjaer next season is already clear: challenge for, or win, the title.

Whether United win 5-0 or lose 5-0 in Poland, they need a centre-back, a midfielder and a forward in the transfer window. Shaw told this correspondent last week reinforcements are essential if United are to reach the 'next level'.

Progress has been the buzzword around United for months and they had a progressive Premier League campaign. They have gone one step further in the Europa League, too and winning it would represent an undeniably successful season.

"You can define the season after tomorrow," Solskjaer said. "So far we've improved but we'll only all go home happy if we win."

The attendance of Sir Alex Ferguson, omnipresent in recent weeks, will have left many fans feeling wistful. The Europa League final falls on the same date as the Champions League final in 1999.

"He flew out with us yesterday," Solskjaer added. "Some of the players and staff went to see his documentary, or Jason [Ferguson]’s documentary about his dad which I felt… I sat there thinking about what he’s done for the club and he’s a special man.

"He’s like an encyclopedia of football, even though I got him on a quiz question yesterday! One of the players got the answer before him and I am sure he is not happy with that.

"Just to have him around when we eat in the restaurant, I’m sure the players, if they wonder about something they can ask him and he’s always available for a chat because this is the club in his heart and I hope he enjoys it as well, because I owe most of my career to him and this club."

This time of year is rife with happy anniversaries for United. Already, last week and this week, the 2008 Champions League and 2017 Europa League successes have been remembered by sticklers for nostalgia.

As one reporter pointed out, Solskjaer's birthday, wedding anniversary and volley past Oliver Kahn all fall on the 26th day of a month. Today is the 26th. "You are not superstitious when it is something negative," Solskjaer noted. "When it’s something positive you think it will work in your favour.

"I think it will be a good omen for us. Players need to do the job and Maybe we can honour Sir Matt’s birthday with another win."

United have to finally cross that bridge.



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