LONDON - Jose Mourinho has vowed to bring the Europa League trophy home to a grief-stricken Manchester in the wake of the terror attack that has rocked the city.
The Manchester United manager travelled with his team to Sweden on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday night’s game against Dutch side Ajax at the Friends Arena.
Mourinho and his players held a minute’s silence before training at their Carrington base on Tuesday morning in memory of the 22 people known to have lost their lives in the suicide bomb attack outside Manchester Arena on Monday night.
In a statement Mourinho said: ‘We are all very sad about the tragic events last night; we cannot take out of our minds and our hearts the victims and their families.
‘We have a job to do. It is a pity we cannot fly with the happiness that we always have before a big game.
‘I know, even during my short time here, that the people of Manchester will pull together as one.’
United cancelled their pre-match press conference with the permission of UEFA on Tuesday. It is understood that Mourinho did not want to be seen as a ‘spokesperson for Manchester’ after only being at the club for less than a year.
In Stockholm, meanwhile, security has been ramped up ahead of Wedneday night’s game and between 1 000 and 1 250 officers, some armed with automatic weapons, will be on duty. Local sources said last night it will be one of the biggest operations ever for a sporting event in the country.
Swedish security forces were already on high alert before Monday’s attack. Only last month, five people were killed here when a terrorist drove a truck into a shopping area in the city.
Support for United and the city of Manchester is widespread.
Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has pledged £100,000 to the victims’ families. Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk said: ‘Yaya and I want to help. We have agreed to donate £50 000 each to help the victims of this terrible crime. Those of us lucky enough to work in football can do so because of the generosity of fans.’
United chief executive Ed Woodward on Tuesday released details of an internal memo sent to staff at Old Trafford after cancelling a staff party scheduled for Wednesday night. Woodward wrote: ‘Manchester is a resilient city and I’m sure that its people will defy the wishes of those who have perpetrated this awful crime and demonstrate what a magnificent place this is.
‘The club provides counselling and support services in times of crisis; please do not be afraid to ask if you have been affected.’
Mourinho and his players visited the stadium after arriving in Sweden last night. The United squad spent five minutes in the centre circle before heading off to be driven to their hotel.
Ajax coach Peter Bosz held a press conference and he extended his sympathies to the people of Manchester.
Bosz said: ‘What happened yesterday evening in Manchester is something we all feel in Ajax and on behalf of all of us at Ajax we express our sympathies with the victims that fell. The evening should be a football feast but because of the events in Manchester we are affected. It is horrible. My sympathies are heartfelt.’
Wednesday night’s game has been eagerly anticipated, given the great European history of the two clubs involved. Fans will now hope that the edge hasn’t been taken off the occasion.
Ajax midfielder Lasse Schone also offered his sympathy. He said: ‘It was terrible for us as well to see and read. It is devastating. Ariana Grande performed in Amsterdam two weeks ago and my wife and child were there.’
‘Our sympathy goes to families. It takes the sparkle off what should be a wonderful day. We feel it is hard but we must be professional and we must change our mindset and continue.’
UEFA confirmed last night that there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off on Wednesday night. As a result, there will be no pre-match entertainment. United will also wear black armbands.