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Thanks to Europa title, Man Utd's gruelling season couldn't have ended better

It's only the Europa League. Try telling that to the thousands of Manchester United supporters who were bouncing around the streets of Stockholm and Manchester on Wednesday evening. They likely surprised themselves by how happy winning the Europa League made them.

It would be wrong to say the outpouring of joy was solely a result of lifting the trophy after the horrible week Mancunians had endured, but United's win provided a moment of happiness.

Less than a five-minute walk from where Monday's terrorist attack took place, hundreds of United fans gathered at a Manchester United Supporters Trust event to watch the game and defiantly chanted the name of their city on the streets after it ended. These are people who are proud of their city and proud of their club, so having a reason to come together and celebrate was very much needed.

Rival fans will scoff because this competition is the poor relation to the Champions League, but United supporters care little. Manager Jose Mourinho has won more trophies (three) in his first season at United, a supposedly inadequate campaign, than Liverpool (one) have in a decade.

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The Europa League had been viewed as an inconvenience to many United supporters this season, though. The Thursday-Sunday schedule had a detrimental impact on their Premier League form, and while they were one of the stronger teams in the competition, the chances of winning it seemed slim.

However, there was always the nagging fact that this was the last trophy for the club to add to their collection. It was the missing piece of the puzzle. The promise of Champions League football as a reward for winning it also appealed.

By the time United reached the semifinals, fans began to take this competition more seriously. Mourinho seemingly gave up on a top-four Premier League finish. His side gave a lacklustre performance away to Arsenal in the league before the second leg of the Europa League semifinal against Celta Vigo. He was putting all his eggs in one basket, and it was an enormous gamble.

If United had failed to win the Europa League after missing out on finishing fourth, Mourinho's season would have ranked below both years that Louis van Gaal spent at the club. He finished fourth in his first season and fifth in his second, lifting the FA Cup before being sacked. It would be hard to defend Mourinho if United missed out on Champions League football next season and had only the EFL Cup to show for this one.

But, and it probably should never have been in doubt, Mourinho did at the Friendship Arena what he almost always does in finals. He won a trophy. He has reached 14 cup finals in 14 years of management and has won 12 of them, which is a fairly ridiculous record.

The first of those two defeats came against Benfica in the 2004 Taca de Portugal when he was the manager of Porto. With the sides drawing, Porto had a player sent off in the 70th minute. After Porto played over half an hour of football with 10 men and with the game going into extra time, Benfica scored the winner.

The only other final he lost was the 2013 Copa del Rey with Real Madrid, when rivals Atletico Madrid beat Real 2-1, again in extra time.

With this record in mind, it should come as no surprise that Mourinho knew exactly what to do to beat Ajax.

The Europa League had been viewed as an inconvenience to many, but it saved Manchester United's season.

The Dutch side dominated possession and total efforts, yet United managed more shots on target and, importantly, scored two goals to Ajax's zero. United never looked threatened and deserved the win.

While the trophy took precedent, it was also fantastic for the supporters to finally see the Mourinho they had longed for all season. After United booked their place in the final, supporters witnessed a rare outburst of happiness, as the manager twirled a scarf, clenched his fist and shouted in front of the Stretford End. But those sorts of occasions have been few and far between.

Even when Paul Pogba put United ahead in the final, Mourinho remained seated, his facial expression barely changing, refusing to give away any signs of how he was feeling.

Yet at the final whistle, he tore onto the field, thumping the air before celebrating wildly with his family, coaches and players. As the trophy was awarded, he encouraged the players to hold three fingers in the air, with the boss including the FA Community Shield in his trophy tally for the season, much to the irritation of rival supporters. Mourinho then kissed his medal and jumped up and down, singing with the players before firmly planting a United flag in the ground.

Even discounting the Community Shield, United have won three trophies in the past year. The FA Cup, the EFL Cup and the Europa League are not a bad return for a club that is still a long way away from where it wants to be. In fact, in the Prem, only Chelsea can claim to have enjoyed a better season than United.

With Champions League football to look forward to next season, as well as a taste of silverware and renewed hunger for more, Mourinho has saved United's season and should be able to recruit any of the players he wants in the summer as a result. Given that four of United's five cup final goals this season were scored by players Mourinho recruited last summer, he should have the full backing of the club in the transfer market.

This season has been fairly gruelling for both the players and fans, but the ending couldn't have been any better.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.


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