Manchester United’s owners wanted to ditch this competition but the devastation at the final whistle in Gdansk Stadium shows how much European glory can mean to the club.
David De Gea, on his 10th anniversary at the club, cut a desolate figure as he walked through the celebrations of Villarreal, gloveless after missing the first spot-kick in a marathon penalty shootout.
One month after the Glazers’ attempt to breakaway, this was the evidence of how badly they got it wrong. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players had to fight until the end of 120 minutes against a team from a tiny Spanish town, built on a fraction of the money United have.
United had fought back after Gerard Moreno had opened the scoring. It needed Edinson Cavani to equalise before a penalty shootout involving all 22 players and they could still not sink the Spaniards.
Solskjaer’s prediction that May 26 was a good omen turned out to be wrong. It was the date where he won the treble for United 22 years ago and he came so close to his first trophy as United’s manager.
Nothing may top the Nou Camp for drama but this was still a memorable shootout in defeat, his team showing character to battle their way back against a team who looked confident of an upset and a coach who has now won the competition four times.
Solskjaer saw winning a first semi-final in five attempts as a breakthrough and must have hoped a first trophy, two-and-a-half seasons after taking over from Jose Mourinho, would further the progress with foundations in place. They were only in the Europa after crashing out of the Champions League group stage and the task is now to overcome this setback.
Credit: The Telegraph UK