STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Manchester United finished the season on a high note by winning the Europa League because the club meticulously study their opponents before big games, manager Jose Mourinho said after a 2-0 victory over Ajax Amsterdam in Wednesday’s final.
“I am very humble when I play finals,” the Portuguese coach told a news conference after an emotional triumph that followed Monday’s suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester that left 22 people dead and 64 injured.
”I respect and study opponents. I try to make my players respect the opponents’ strengths and also to understand their weaknesses.
”This is the most important trophy of my career because it’s the last (in line) and the last one is always the most important. That’s the way I look at things.
“It means everything for the team. It means going back to the Champions League and playing in the European Super Cup next August. It’s the last piece of the puzzle.”
Mourinho stressed that his team were able to block from their minds Monday’s attack in Manchester and focus on their biggest game of the season.
“When you go into big matches you go happy and we didn‘t. The boys were fantastic because they built a wall in front of their eyes and isolated themselves from everything to stay focused on the football match,” he said.
“Yesterday we didn’t want to have the press conference because we had to prepare ourselves to do our job and to try to forget events which are much more important than our job,” he said referrring to the decision to cancel the news conference.
”But the world goes on, it doesn’t stop. I agree with the UEFA decision to play the match but obviously the tragedy that occurred takes some of the happiness from our achievement.
“If we could, we would change the cup for people’s lives. We wouldn’t think twice.”
Mourinho declined to say whether United’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is sidelined with a long-term knee injury, would stay at the club but heaped praise on the towering Swede who watched the final behind the bench sporting crutches.
”It’s so unfair what happened to him but life and football sometimes are,“ said Mourinho. ”This night would have been amazing for him if he had been on the pitch in his hometown, on the pitch where he played before he left Sweden.
“He made an amazing impact this season and I am so pleased that in his amazing career he finally gets a European trophy.”
Editing by Ken Ferris