Manchester United, the club with the most fans in England, the one that collects the most Premier titles and the pioneer in the exploitation of image rights on a global scale, faces Villarreal tonight in Gdansk (21.00, Movistar Champions League) , the heart of a ceramic town of 40,000 inhabitants delighted to be part of an event that they consider historic. For Villarreal, the Europa League final is a culmination. For United it is just a brick in the road. Solskjaer and his players repeat it in a veiled way: they find the present unpleasant. The provincial nature of the rival adds pressure to them in the first UEFA final to be played with the public after the outbreak of the pandemic. The stadium will host 9,500 spectators, including 2,000 supporters from each side.
The old UEFA Cup is an end in itself for Villarreal and an instrument for Manchester, as the club is caught up in an existential crisis that evokes past disasters for the fans. The English media compare the depression that the club has suffered since 2013 with the Munich air disaster in 1958 and the relegation to Second Division in 1974. Among many spells, the fans look for parallels between the final in Gdansk and the Champions League final in Barcelona in 1999 , conquered against Bayern with a last goal from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who now coaches the team.
“The 1999 final was the beginning of something better,” said the coach, who also speculates inspired by a regeneration idea. “This final can also be the first stone of a bright future. It may be the beginning of something else because this is also a young squad. I discovered self-confidence in 1999. When players sign for United, they accept the pressure that comes with it because they accept the challenge of being the best in the world. This is the best club in the world ”.
Villarreal managers and players boast of their village origin. The rhetoric that surrounds United refers to the imperial condition. Even Eric Cantona, a French bohemian, endorses the ideals of domination of the club he helped to re-found with Alex Ferguson. “The years pass and the tribes evolve”, declaims in
The possible loss of captain Harry Maguire, who suffers an ankle ligament injury, is the main difficulty that Solskjaer must solve. Without its most executive central Manchester loses force in its area, a virtue that accentuates the vocation of a team of rapid transitions. Faced with the associative power of Villarreal, whose operation is always above individuals, United will not lack the figures that define its way of behaving: the scattered Rashford, the majestic Pogba and the wise Bruno Fernandes, oxygenated by the unmarkedness of the generous Edinson Cavani.
“We have not done any special preparation,” Solskjaer acknowledged. “We prepare the final like all Premier games. We are United and we must always win, so nothing changes. Otherwise we would add unnecessary pressure on the players. “
The overwhelming notion of success as an imposed duty weighed heavily on what the representatives of the English club said, insistently questioned about it by the press. “We came to this club because we wanted to win titles,” said Bruno Fernandes. “All players know that trophies are part of this club. When you sign you know the pressure will be there. But pressure is part of life, not just football. I like it. I’m doing well ”.
Unai Emery, the Villarreal coach, appeared and even gave an impression of happiness after the tense English transit through the stadium’s conference room. “We know we will have our chances,” he said. “You have to hold on tight to them.”
Emery, who won three out of four, knows from experience what it means to hold onto this Cup on the day of the final.