'Do it for the city, do it for the kids' urges Manchester United manager
Manchester United players want to put in a performance “for the city” in their Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm tonight (7.45pm), with sources close to the squad saying they are “110%” in favour of playing the game for exactly that reason after the atrocity at the Manchester Arena on Monday night.
Manager Jose Mourinho was also said to be hugely impressive in telling the players to ‘do it for the city, do it for the kids’, when speaking to his squad on a sombre day that started with a minute’s silence ahead of training.
Uefa very quickly confirmed tonight’s game at the Friends Arena will go ahead as planned after the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 22 people, most of them teens and children, albeit with “additional security measures”, and that a minute’s silence will also be observed beforehand with the United players wearing black armbands.
Mourinho’s pre-game press conference was cancelled at the request of United, with the Portuguese instead releasing a statement, although the manager’s private words to his squad on Tuesday were said to be stirring as he emphasised the duty to play for both the city and the young victims of the atrocity.
The 54-year-old touched on some of that in his statement, speaking of how the club “have a job to do”.
“We’re all very sad about the tragic events,” Mourinho said. “We can’t take out of our minds and hearts the victims and their families. I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one.
“We have a job to do and will fly to Sweden to do that job. It’s a pity we cannot fly with the happiness we always have before a big game.”
Some of the United players were said to be visibly and particularly affected by the events, but that there was a general feeling of resolve among the squad, with players “determined” to perform for the city.
Ajax manager Peter Bosz, meanwhile, spoke of how "the glow" had been taken off the game, as he started his own press conference with a statement offering the club's sympathies.
"What happened in Manchester is something that we all feel at Ajax. On behalf of the players and the staff, we at Ajax would like to express sympathy with the victims," he said.
"The feeling that prevails is that the final doesn't have the glow it should have. The evening should be a football feast, but because of events in Manchester, we're all affected, particularly as we're playing against Manchester. My heartfelt sympathies."
Bosz went on to say that "a shadow" hangs over the fixture, that otherwise would have been such a special occasion between two of Europe's most historic clubs.
"It should be one big celebration, but when something like this happens, the fact we've been discussing it just goes to show the impact. It is a match that Manchester wants to win, that we want to win. But there is a shadow hanging over this final," he said.
The United squad arrived at the Friends Arena for the customary pre-game walk-around at the same time that Bosz was speaking, with Mourinho leading his players into the centre circle for what was an understandably sombre gathering.
The suspended Eric Bailly was with the group, while Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young - who are all injured - watched from the sidelines. There was no sign of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who suffered a severe cruciate ligament injury in the quarter-final against Anderlecht, but he is expected to be present for the match itself.
Uefa have also confirmed that, along with a minute's silence, the opening ceremony will be considerably reduced out of respect to victims, and that Swedish artists Axwell and Ingrosso will no longer be performing.
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told the club's TV station that the club has been left "numb".
"Words don't really do justice for how we all feel. We're numb. The events were sickening and all our thoughts are with the victims and the families affected," he said. "It was very sombre flying over with the directors and it was all we were talking about.
"We've met with Uefa and gone through different things we can do around the game, and they accepted we can wear black armbands and have a minute's silence.
"We've got a job to do and that hasn't been changed but I think what happened really put things into perspective. Success on the pitch really is nothing compared to the pain and suffering going on back home."
Belfast Telegraph Digital