Villarreal’s players celebrated like they had never celebrated before, when David de Gea’s missed his penalty in the 2021 Europa League final penalty shootout to hand them their first European title.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær looked crestfallen that his side had not been able to win a trophy in a final in which they had wrongly been expected to triumph in comfortably.
It might not have matched the feeling of their two Champions League final defeats to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 and was probably nowhere near the pain of Sergio Agüero’s goal for Manchester City against Queens Park Rangers, snatching away the Premier League from United’s hands at the death, but it hurt badly.
Fast-forward to November, and Solskjær was relieved of his duty as manager of the Red Devils, after a poor start to the Premier League season signalled that his time at the club was up.
Many fingers point towards that Europa League final shootout as the defining moment of his tenure.
Close in some respects, but ultimately nowhere near the level of standard required to manage arguably England’s most famous football club.
But when you look upon the status of the Europa League, how can it be that a competition in which the favourites are happy to field a weakened team in most stages until the quarter-finals have such a cataclysmic effect?
There’s a similar tale to be learned of two years earlier, in the case of Arsenal, who were completely dismantled 4-1 by Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea in the final in Baku.
Having regularly qualified for the Champions League over the previous twenty years, Arsenal’s participation in the competition was regarded as a bit of a joke by the rest of the footballing world.
However, should the competition have really been shirked by the club’s own supporters, when the Gunners’ only major European trophy was a Cup Winners’ Cup won back in 1994?
If you take a look at major football clubs talking about their history, the majority of those (who have previously won a Europa League/UEFA Cup) will boast about it as a proud moment.
Even losing finalists of the competition will talk about famous runs in Europe, suggesting that the competition definitely has some importance.
Recent winners of the competition from the English Premier League include Manchester United and Chelsea.
Chelsea has won it twice over the past decade, with triumphs in 2013 and 2019.
The 2013 final was particularly dramatic, with Branislav Ivanović grabbing the winner in stoppage time in a 2-1 victory over Benfica, whilst the previously mentioned dismantling of Arsenal occurred in 2019, which was perhaps paraded due to the dominance they had over their London rivals in the final.