Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera has dedicated their Europa League triumph over Ajax Amsterdam to the victims of the deadly bomb attack in Manchester on Monday, while Juan Mata and Paul Pogba also paid tribute to those affected.
A minute’s silence was held before the game, which turned into applause, in honour of the 22 people killed and 64 injured in the blast at an Ariana Grande pop concert at the Manchester Arena the night before the team left for the final in Stockholm.
Goals from France international Pogba and Armenian Henrik Mkhitaryan in each half gave United their first European trophy since 2008, and their first Europa League crown.
“I want to dedicate the trophy to the victims,” man of the match Herrera told reporters after Wednesday’s victory.
“This is just football but what happened on Monday was horrible. We want peace in the world and respect. This happened in Manchester but everywhere we have to be a united world to fight for peace and to have no more attacks.
“Yesterday morning we were devastated and really sad,” added the Spaniard, who has developed into one of Jose Mourinho’s most valuable players this campaign, his third at United, and has won the admiration of supporters for his dedication to the side.
“It was difficult to train yesterday but the manager told us is that the only thing we could do is win this for them.”
A little more than 48 hours after the attack, substitute Wayne Rooney took over the captain’s arm band and raised the Europa League trophy at the Friends Arena, the stadium where American Grande began her world tour back on May 8.
“Obviously football doesn’t bring back the lives which were lost, but to try and give some happiness to the city was vital to us,” the 31-year-old club captain told reporters.
“I knew people who were at the concert, so it’s not easy, it’s not a nice moment – not just for Manchester but for the whole of England, and we all felt that. Then we had to go out and put a performance in to win the game.
Rooney could not say if the game would be his last in a Manchester United shirt.
“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “This is a time now that I will go and spend with my family, there’s decisions I have to make and I’ll do that over the next few weeks.”
The Europa League success and United’s Community Shield and League Cup triumphs added some gloss to a disappointing Premier League season for United, who finished sixth in the standings, 24 points adrift of champions Chelsea.
“The motivation is always big when you put a United shirt on, because we represent the greatest club in England one of the biggest in the world,” added Herrera.
“We know we could have done better in the Premier League so to finish the season by winning the League Cup and the Europa League is fantastic. We performed like a big team today and I think our fans can be very proud of us.”
Herrera’s compatriot Mata said Monday’s shocking events in Manchester gave the win in Stockholm extra significance.
“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,” Mata told reporters.
“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. We have won a trophy the club has never won so we are really happy.”
Pogba, who moved to Manchester aged 16 to join United’s set up and returned last summer from Juventus for a world record 89 million pounds ($115.41 million) fee, added: “We know things like this are very sad all over the world. We had to focus. Manchester – we won for them. We played for England, we played for Manchester and we played for them — the people who died.”