A minute’s silence and emotive, sadness-laced tweets have reflected the mood of the Manchester United camp ahead of tonight’s Europa League final with Ajax.
The spectacle in Stockholm will be a sombre, subdued occasion, after it was overshadowed by the terrorist attack in Manchester.
“Much rage, much pain,” wrote keeper David De Gea.
But one comment particularly poignant and significant with such a crucial game on the horizon came from Jesse Lingard, born in Warrington, itself hit by bomb blasts a year after he was born in 1992.
“We will stand together in this dark hour,” it read.
And that is exactly what United, football and sport must do now. A defiant approach is the only approach. United in grief, united they must stand.
And as manager Jose Mourinho said in a statement yesterday, they still have a job to do, they still have to fulfill their responsibilities.
It will be unquestionably difficult to focus, to think of a historic first trophy in this competition, and a place in the Champions League, when a city so close to your hearts has been affected in such a devastating manner.
But life has to go on and what greater motivation than to win and try to provide some desperately-needed happiness at a time of hurt, to dedicate success to the victims, to triumph after tragedy.
In adversity, people look for heroes and United can provide a team of them. It is a time too when the club’s big names must lead by example.
One such player is Paul Pogba. It has been an emotional week for the Frenchman following the loss of his father, Fassou Antoine, after a long-term illness.
He pointed to the sky on Sunday after scoring the opener in United’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League season, and saying the goal – his first since a League Cup strike in January – was ‘for my Pap’.
Now he must show just why he became the most expensive player in football when he left Juventus last summer for Old Trafford, just why his services were so coveted and why he is in a Europa League final rather than the Champions League showpiece with the Italians.
Paul Pogba on his return today:— Devils of United (@DevilsOfUnited) May 21, 2017
1 quality assist
Emotional moment. pic.twitter.com/bMNVPTUMY6
Pogba has talked of making United the best by becoming the best. But it has been a frustrating season for the 24-year-old midfielder as he has endured constant criticism by failing to live up to expectations.
Yet he could still finish it on a high with a second major trophy and helping fulfil the club’s target of being among Europe’s elite again.
This is the stage for Pogba, though. This is what he was bought for, to influence big games and help United win big prizes.
And he can also step forward to lead United into a new era.
Graphic: CIES Team of the Season feat. Pogba [via br] pic.twitter.com/ii469QsyaP— utdreport (@utdreport) May 16, 2017
With Wayne Rooney, and possibly Chris Smalling, on the way out, there are few outstanding candidates for the club captaincy next season.
Michael Carrick, if he signs a contract extension, and Antonio Valencia are candidates, along with Ander Herrera, but Pogba should come into the equation and come to the fore with his qualities.
He has his critics, and Mourinho has yet to find a position and system for him to produce better performances, but he does have class and can command respect, from the older and younger generation.
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