Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes the presence of Sir Alex Ferguson will help inspire his Manchester United players to “take the next step” by winning the Europa League.
Legendary former manager Ferguson, who won 38 trophies in 26 years at Old Trafford, has travelled with the United squad to Gdansk ahead of Wednesday’s final.
The Red Devils face Spanish side Villarreal and are seeking their first silverware since Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018, initially on a caretaker basis.
It also marks just Solskjaer’s second final as a manager, having won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde, where he also lifted the Tippeligaen in 2011 and 2012.
After ending his curse of losing in four cup semi-finals as United boss, Solskjaer believes a first trophy for his current crop of players can be a springboard for further success.
“Of course, when players get the taste of success, it can go one of two ways,” Solskjaer said at Tuesday’s pre-match news conference.
“Now we’ve done it, or how I felt before, it gives you that feeling of being hungry for more. You want that feeling again.
“For this group, working hard for a year or two, it’s a next step for them now to go and enjoy a game like this.
“These are big nights for us. It might be the stepping stone for something better to come. This team is a young team, a team that we’ve rebuilt.
“Hopefully this is the start of something more. Sir Alex is with us, the 26th of May is Sir Matt [Busby]’s birthday.
“When the players sign for Manchester United, they sign to win, to accept the challenge of being the best.
“This is the best club of the world, this is the pleasure of the pressure. They wouldn’t have signed if they weren’t top players.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 25, 2021
Asked about Ferguson’s role in United’s preparations, Solskjaer said: “He flew out with us yesterday. Some of us went to see his documentary.
“I sat there thinking about this special man. He’s an encyclopedia of football. When we eat in the restaurant, if the players wonder about something, they can ask him.
“He’s always available. I hope he’s going to enjoy it as well. I owe most of my career to him and this club.”
Wednesday’s match will be United’s eighth major European final, which is the second-most of any English club after Liverpool (14).
United, who have won five of those previous seven finals, are expected to be without key man Harry Maguire against Villarreal as the defender continues to nurse an ankle injury.
Maguire was included in United’s squad, despite missing his side’s final four league games of the season, but Solskjaer is not overly confident the centre-back will be ready to feature.
“We’ve prepared well,” Solskjaer said. “Anthony [Martial] didn’t make it, Phil [Jones] of course didn’t make it and Harry is just probably going to jog up and down the sideline [in training].
“He’ll probably try to join in the training session a little but apart from that we’re looking quite good.
“It’s always difficult to leave players out. But throughout the whole season, a final is a reward for what you’ve done the whole season.
“We’ll enjoy the last training session and the players will learn the team tomorrow.”
All 9 of Bruno Fernandes’ goal contributions in this season’s competition
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 25, 2021
United rounded off their Premier League campaign with a 2-1 win at Wolves to finish in second place, 12 points behind runaway champions Manchester City.
Solskjaer is pleased with the progress made season-on-season and insists his players will be ready for the huge showdown with Unai Emery’s Villarreal.
“I’ve got enough self-belief in myself, whatever circumstances I’ve been in,” he said. “I trust in the players, who I know are ready. I’ve seen in them something growing.
“I’m confident that we’re ready for this now. Every player who goes into a final has the pressure to win. You have to play to win, we expect to win, but I’m sure Unai feels the same.
“It’s been a long qualification to get here and it’s 50-50. I feel confident that we are ready for this. In a final, anything can happen and we have to be ready for everything.”
United are facing Villarreal for a fifth time, with each of the previous four meetings – all in the Champions League between 2005-06 and 2008-09 – finishing goalless.
The Red Devils have faced Villarreal more times without ever scoring than they have any other opponent in their history.
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