Manchester United's Europa League win: How important will it be?
Jose Mourinho's first season at Manchester United came down to one game at Stockholm's superbly appointed Friends Arena - a game played in the shadow of tragedy but still a game that would define how he and his team's season would be viewed.
If Manchester United had lost to Ajax in the Europa League final, sixth place in the Premier League and an EFL Cup win would count as a failure given expectations and expenditure after he was appointed as Louis van Gaal's successor.
If United won Mourinho would be seen once more as the man who guarantees success, with two major trophies secured and a place back at European football's top table next season in the Champions League.
Mourinho and United took the winning option, overpowering a talented but lightweight Ajax to give their season and thousands of celebrating fans a warmer glow.
It also provided a city in mourning with cause for a measured and respectful outpouring of joy after 22 people died and many more were injured in Monday's terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.
So how important was this win for Mourinho and Manchester United?
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Mourinho's mission accomplished - and the smiles return
Mourinho spoke of the "humble principles" behind his fourth win in a European final that also allowed Manchester United to join the select group who have claimed every trophy on offer outside the domestic game, a list that includes Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus.
Amid this show of self-proclaimed humility Mourinho still found time to take aim at "the poets" (presumably pundits) who he claimed win every game they play, and also take a swipe at his rivals in the Premier League.
"In a bad season when sometimes I felt my team were the worst team in the world, where I felt I was the worst manager in the world, we managed to win three trophies [the Community Shield in August being the other] and go into the Champions League by winning a trophy not by finishing second, third or fourth," he said.
It was a less than subtle jab in the direction of Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, his old adversary Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp - with Mourinho perhaps taking notice of Sunday's wild celebrations on and off the pitch at Anfield after fourth place was confirmed.
It was a win Mourinho desperately needed - and how it showed on his face. The scowl that has been a trademark this season was replaced by a beaming smile.
The pressure was released and the years seemed to roll away as he turned to his family behind the technical area at the final whistle and raised an index finger to the skies. It was a gesture he said was a coded message to his loved ones but it could also have been a reminder that the manager who was a Premier League title winner only seven months before the sack at Chelsea was in the winners' enclosure once more.
It was a night high on emotion after Monday's attack in Manchester and it also seemed a night when Mourinho's bond with United's fans was sealed.
|Jose Mourinho's record in Europe|
|Porto: Uefa Cup 2003, Champions League 2004|
|Inter Milan: Champions League 2010|
|Manchester United: Europa League 2017|
He has occasionally looked an uneasy fit at Old Trafford but here he was at home. As he held the trophy aloft in front of United's elated support, Mourinho's name was chanted in a manner rarely heard this season. It looked and sounded like he was finally right at home.
Mourinho and United's game-changer
Mourinho gambled on winning the Europa League to put Manchester United back in the Champions League. The fight for a place in the Premier League's top four was cast aside weeks ago as he concentrated on a competition he once derided but which now offered the opportunity to win a spot against Europe's best.
And the success of Mourinho's gamble means United's summer strategy can be built around not simply offering targets that Old Trafford can deliver financially but also the lure of the Champions League.
United were still able to bring world record transfer Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford without that enticement last summer - but Mourinho and Old Trafford's decision-makers know that an offer without Champions League football would soon result in diminishing returns.
It was virtually seconds after victory over Ajax that the odds on Atletico Madrid's world-class forward Antoine Griezmann joining United shortened considerably, despite a reported £85m release clause in his contract.
Mourinho revealed executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been in possession of his transfer hit-list for two months but this Europa League win could act as even more of a game-changer with United being viewed an even more attractive proposition now.
This was not just a night of huge significance for Mourinho. The stakes were high for United's status - and they were all winners.
Where must Mourinho strengthen?
Two major trophies in his first season cannot disguise that Manchester United still need further renovation. The grim statistic of 15 draws in what was a largely unsatisfactory league campaign tells the tale.
And there is every chance the list Mourinho passed to Woodward eight weeks ago will have outlined demands to strengthen the spine of a team that has failed too often, despite its eventual success, to get the result required.
Goalkeeper David de Gea, who watched Wednesday's win as Sergio Romero took his traditional Europa League place, is still linked with a move to Real Madrid so Mourinho may be looking for a replacement there, with Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak a contender.
Eric Bailly, suspended against Ajax, has been a big success since his £30m move from Villarreal and Mourinho is a fan of Marcos Rojo - but there must be question marks against both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
Not only has their form been mixed, Mourinho has appeared to question the speed with which the England pair recovered from injury, calling on them on one occasion "to be brave - risk".
United are in a strong position to sign Burnley's 24-year-old England defender Michael Keane, although there would be a measure of embarrassment, as there was with Pogba's return, after he was packed off from Old Trafford to Turf Moor by Van Gaal in January 2015 for only £2m.
He would cost around £25m but United would pay a smaller fee because they would activate the 25% sell-on clause they included in his move to Burnley.
Keane also represents a fitter and younger option than Jones, 25, and 27-year-old Smalling.
Mourinho may also look to bring in extra midfield strength, with links to Monaco's £70m Bernardo Silva while the desire to bring the class and quality of 26-year-old France forward Griezmann to United is an open secret.
The list may not be long but it might be very expensive. The Europa League win and the return of Champions League football means Mourinho is in a better position to demand and Woodward is in a better position to deliver.
Who will leave United?
One name sticks out when the question of departures is raised - Wayne Rooney.
For all Mourinho's public assurances that he would be happy to keep the 31-year-old, there was a real sense of farewell as he came on as substitute a minute from time, Antonio Valencia making great play of offering him the captain's armband.
Rooney was also greeted by the sort of noise and affection from United's fans that has decreased with his decline, a gesture of thanks and perhaps a goodbye to a player who has been a magnificent contributor since his £27m move from Everton in the summer of 2004.
He has a club record of 253 goals from 558 games and has won five league titles, three League Cups, the Champions League, the FA Cup and now the Europa League.
It does seem, however, that the credits are rolling and options appear to be a move to China, the United States or a return to his first love Everton, although that would take some serious financial compromise on Rooney's part as he is on a reported £300,000 a week and has two years to run on his contract.
And what of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an outstanding success even at 35, scoring 28 goals after his free transfer move from Paris St-Germain until he sustained a serious knee injury?
Mourinho spoke with genuine affection about a player and personality he first forged a bond with at Inter Milan but his option for a second year on his contract has not been taken up and United will surely want to study his recovery from an injury that would be a serious setback for any player, let alone a 35-year-old.
He may survive if Mourinho feels he does not wish to lose Rooney and Ibrahimovic's experience - but it will be a delicate decision.
Michael Carrick is also waiting to commit his future. The 35-year-old, who has a testimonial at Old Trafford on 4 June, has been involved in contract talks that have progressed well - but will the veteran feel he might get more football elsewhere?
It will not be a matter of Mourinho simply handing that list to Woodward. United may also want to cut back on their squad for next season.
What will Mourinho's target be next season?
Mourinho has never been held back by modesty - but he looked like a man with confidence and self-belief fully restored as United's season came to this successful conclusion in Stockholm.
Now, buoyed by this success, Mourinho and United must set sights higher next season.
United's sixth place in the Premier League was simply not good enough and a serious title challenge must be the target after what is likely to be a summer of huge investment as a show of faith in Mourinho's management.
The Champions League has always had a special place in Mourinho's affections and he will want to make another journey into its later stages.
Manchester United winning the League Cup and the Europa League can be considered a highly successful return - but now Mourinho must take the lift to the next floor and challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.