Less than 48 hours after 22 people died and over 100 more were injured in the senseless bombings at a concert in Manchester, the most decorated soccer club from that grieving city – Manchester United – will play for a trophy against Ajax in the Europa League final in Sweden on Wednesday.
To honor the victims, manager Jose Mourinho and his players held a minute’s silence at the team’s final training session on Tuesday. UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, agreed to the club’s request to cancel Mourinho’s news conference since United was still coping with the tragedy.
“It’s all we were talking about, to be honest,” club chairman Ed Woodward said.
After a “somber” flight to Stockholm, Woodward said he and United board members met with UEFA, which agreed to allow players to wear black armbands during the game. To allay any concerns, UEFA issued a statement that “additional security measures” were put in place long ago to ensure everyone’s safety at Friends Arena. Also, a minute’s silence will take place before kickoff and the opening ceremony will be “considerably reduced” out of respect.
So everything is set for the game to be played on Wednesday. But should this match still go on as planned?
The question certainly must be asked. It’s the same question that was posed after bombs exploded near the Borussia Dortmund bus and, fortunately, only injured one player. UEFA postponed that Champions League match against Monaco but had it played the very next day. Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel was highly critical of the decision. So was this blog.
Logistics and a busy schedule put UEFA in a tight spot to make the tough decision to play the Dortmund-Monaco game 24 hours after the bus bombings. However, UEFA doesn’t have those same scheduling concerns with the Europa League final. Ajax and Man United will play 10 days before the showcase match of European club soccer – the Champions League final – in Cardiff, Wales.
Taking time to allow a city to mourn doesn’t mean the terrorists win because everyday life, or in this case a soccer game, would be changed. Postponement would actually do what we all say after the sports world is affected by tragedy – put the games that professional athletes play into its proper perspective.
Ajax sounded like it could use some additional days to get mentally prepared to play its biggest game in years. Wives and children of players attended the same Ariana Grande concert in Amsterdam two weeks ago, prompting manager Peter Bosz to acknowledge that “we’re all affected” by Monday’s tragedy. He added that “a shadow is hanging over this match,” but he refused to say whether the Europa League final should be moved to a later date.
“It’s for other people to decide that,” Bosz told reporters.
“We’ve got a job to do tomorrow. There’s no question about that. That hasn’t changed,” Woodward said. “But I think what happened [Monday] night puts things into perspective. Success on the pitch really is nothing compared to the pain and suffering that’s going on back home.”
UEFA should not make the same mistake as it did with the Dortmund bombings. It should give the clubs, the city of Manchester and England a few more days to heal before getting back to the matter of crowning a Europa League champion.
This is no rush to judgment. It’s just that time is running out for UEFA to make the right call.
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.