Where are they now? The last Man Utd team to win a trophy in 2017
Manchester United are renowned for their success – domestically and in Europe – but May will mark five years without a trophy at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho was the last manager to lift silverware at the club with a Europa League triumph in 2017.
Mourinho’s impact at United was not what he or supporters anticipated, as he failed to end the club’s inability to return to title-winning ways after Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign.
But with the Red Devils seemingly slipping further adrift season-by-season from challenging for top honours, maybe the Portuguese overseeing a win in Stockholm was more impressive than initially credited.
The former Chelsea manager prioritised cup success in the 2016-17 campaign, winning the League Cup, before his team defeated Ajax 2-0 in the showpiece European final.
We’ve taken a look back at the side that secured United’s last trophy against the Dutch giants.
GK: Sergio Romero
Having been a consistent feature in United’s Europa League campaign that season, Mourinho kept faith in the Argentina international for the final – David de Gea was the goalkeeper warming the bench.
The decision was justified as Romero kept a clean sheet against Hakim Ziyech and co. But Argentina’s all-time most capped goalkeeper didn’t see his career blossom in the preceding four years of his United stay.
Limited to sporadic appearances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the 35-year-old was released in 2021 after slipping to third choice in the pecking order behind Dean Henderson.
“It was a strange year for me, but I trained all year at Manchester United. Some days I was training by myself, because the squad was preparing for a game,” Romero said, describing the end of his six-year spell in Manchester.
RB: Antonio Valencia
Valencia was one of Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenants at United until he fell out of favour in the 59-year-old’s last season at the helm – he made the Ecuador international captain.
“I could not believe I was being given the chance to be captain of a club like Manchester United. I was incredibly happy to take that responsibility,” Valencia said.
Victory in Stockholm, marked Valencia’s eighth trophy in a United shirt before he went on to leave and see out the final two years of his career in his homeland and Mexico.
CB: Chris Smalling
After Mourinho’s predecessor Louis Van Gaal famously got his name wrong in a press conference – mistakenly calling him ‘Mike’ Smalling, he may have hoped that would be the last of any embarrassing moments inflicted by United managers at his expense.
But Mourinho delivered another following the Ajax victory – perhaps more confidence-sapping than embarrassing in all truth.
“I even joked with Smalling – ‘With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back! That’s where we won the game,” Mourinho said.
Later in the Portuguese manager’s tenure, he criticised Smalling for an unwillingness to play through injury.
Both are now reunited at Roma. Smalling is a regular starter in Italy which suggests their relationship has improved – time’s a great healer, after all.
CB: Daley Blind
Blind joined United in 2014 from Ajax, signed by his compatriot Van Gaal. Beating his former employers in the final was his finest act at the Red Devils before he returned to his boyhood club for a second spell four years ago.
In many respects, it’s just fantastic to see Blind still playing football. This is after the Dutch international was diagnosed with a heart problem after feeling dizzy during a Champions League tie against Valencia in 2019.
LB: Matteo Darmian
The Italian defender was used as a utility man throughout Mourinho’s reign. He received plaudits for his solid defensive display against Ajax operating on his unfavoured left-hand side.
Darmian currently plays for Inter Milan after returning to Italy following four years at Old Trafford between 2015 and 2019. He’s celebrated a trophy more recently than his former side, having helped Inter win the Scudetto last term.
The winning streak looks set to continue for Inter! 🔵⚫
Matteo Darmian gets the breakthrough, Conte runs on to the pitch to celebrate, and they move another step closer to Scudetto glory 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fg0ubOUZhD
— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) April 11, 2021
CM: Ander Herrera
Herrera had all the characteristics Mourinho loves – an aggressive, win at all costs attitude. So it’s little surprise he selected him from the outset for the Europa League final.
If the Spaniard was fit, you could almost guarantee the current Roma boss would pick him for the decisive matches. We all remember Herrera doing an excellent man-for-man job to mark Eden Hazard out of games between United and Chelsea.
Herrera is now at PSG. His industrious approach isn’t appreciated quite as much in Paris as it was in Manchester.
CM: Paul Pogba
It’s no secret that Pogba’s United career hasn’t lived up to expectations – he looks set to move on at the end of the season. But the World Cup winner set the Red Devils on their way to victory in Stockholm netting an 18th-minute opener.
Even if he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Mourinho, he certainly delivered on the big stage in 2017.
CM: Marouane Fellaini
“Even if you have earned money during your career, sometimes you also have to think about your future,” these were the words of the Belgium international when he left Old Trafford to join Shandong Luneng in 2019.
Few could begrudge Fellaini for his reasoning; he wasn’t exactly a fan favourite with United fans.
But the midfielder was reborn under Mourinho, and that’s why he was trusted to start in the biggest game of the 2016-17 season. Despite his limitations, Fellaini was pivotal in the double-winning team five years ago.
RM: Juan Mata (Wayne Rooney, ‘90)
When you think about the current crop Ralf Rangnick has at his disposal, Mata is probably one of the last names that springs to mind. However – despite his dwindling powers now – he was crucial in United’s European journey under Mourinho.
Like a few in this line-up, his relationship with the Portuguese was called into question on occasion, mainly due to Mourinho allowing Mata to leave Chelsea for Old Trafford for a then club-record £37.1 million fee in 2014.
Rooney made a fleeting appearance as a substitute in the final. The Europa League win added to an already sizable trophy haul for England’s record goal-scorer.
He’s now in the infancy of his managerial career, aiming to keep Derby County in the Championship in spite of their well-publicised off-field troubles.
LM: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Jesse Lingard, ’74)
Mkhitaryan’s standout performance for United came in this final. He scored the decisive second goal in the match to end hopes of an Ajax comeback.
The first Armenian to play in the Premier League was used as part of a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez in 2018, seeing Mkhitaryan move to Arsenal – a move which didn’t go to plan for either party.
Like Smalling, the winger is now playing for Roma and is a key figure in Mourinho’s team.
Lingard was used as a late substitute by Mourinho to inject fresh energy to proceedings. As has been the case for most of the 29-year-old’s career, he couldn’t cement a place in the starting XI consistently under the Portuguese coach.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 24, 2021
ST: Marcus Rashford (Anthony Martial, ’84)
Rashford racked up more appearances and minutes for Mourinho than any other United outfield playing during his tenure. For a manager who is viewed as not giving youth a chance, Mourinho had plenty of time for the England international.
“My time under Jose was a massive learning period for me and I feel like I understood football in a different way to what I understood football before that,” Rashford told Sky Sports on his period with Mourinho.
The forward remains a key player for Rangnick’s United side, even if his performances have dipped this season.
Martial – currently on loan at Sevilla – failed to fit the bill for Mourinho. When he fired in a Henry-esque goal on his Red Devils debut against Liverpool in 2015 – sending Martin Tyler into pandemonium on commentary duty – I think we all expected his career would have excelled much more than it has to date.
It remains to be seen if his time to shine in the Premier League has passed him by.