Paul Pogba dedicated Manchester United’s Europa League title triumph to the 22 people killed in Monday’s attack in Manchester, defiantly saying: “We played for the people who died.”
An emotional evening in Stockholm began on Wednesday with a moment of silence in memory of those killed at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, before goals from Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan clinched a 2-0 victory over Ajax.
“These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris. We went out focused to win and we won for Manchester and the country,” Pogba, who was also playing at the Stade de France on the night of the November 2015 Paris attacks, told BT Sport.
“We played for England, we played for Manchester, and we played for the people who died.”
United players wore black armbands while chants of “Manchester” rang out from their fans as reminders of the attack were everywhere at the Friends Arena in Sweden.
Victory enabled United to complete a sweep of European trophies – joining Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea as the only clubs to have won the Champions League, the Europa League and the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Spain international Juan Mata expressed his delight at helping United land the only major trophy missing from the club’s honours, but his thoughts were also primarily with those affected by the shocking events in Manchester.
“We have won a trophy the club has never won so we are really happy,” said Mata.
“It means a lot as it is my first European trophy with United and after what happened yesterday it is nice to bring a trophy back for Manchester.
“It has been a really difficult week in the city of Manchester and we are happy to win for all the people that have suffered.”
Chants of “Manchester” and “We’ll Never Die” bellowed out from the English supporters before the match.
World record signing Pogba opened the scoring in the 18th minute as United won the ball after an Ajax throw-in, the Frenchman’s shot taking a wicked deflection to wrong-foot goalkeeper Andre Onana and fly into the net.
Mkhitaryan then flicked the ball home early in the second half following a corner and with chants of “Manchester, Manchester” echoing around the stadium.
Ajax, fielding the youngest starting lineup in a European final, were expected to make a quick start as they did in their 4-1 win over Olympique Lyonnais in their semi-final first leg.
Instead the Dutch side was fenced in by United, nullified by Marouane Fellaini and man of the match Ander Herrera in the middle.
While the victory was celebrated, United’s Manager Jose Mourinho put things into perspective: “We’d exchange the cup for attack victims’ lives,” he said.