Jose Mourinho says the Europa League “is not a competition that Man Utd wants” and has hinted that motivation could be a problem for his players.
Last season’s fifth-place finish means United will line up in the group stage of the competition for the first time, with Feyenoord lying in wait on Thursday night at the imposing if partially-closed De Kuip.
For the three-time European champions it will be a galling campaign, with this evening’s match seeing Mourinho taking charge of a side in the competition for the first time since leading Porto to UEFA Cup glory against Celtic in 2003.
It is clear the manager, his players and the club would rather not be in the Europa League, but the Portuguese boss is attempting to change the mindset as United try to win the only major continental trophy missing from their cabinet.
“This is not a competition that Man United wants,” Mourinho said.
“It is not the competition I want, it is not the competition the players want, but it is a competition where we are and that’s the reality.
“We have to look to the competition with respect. I think we want to do well in the competition and for a club of our dimension to do well is not to be out of the competition in the group phase.
“I think you can see by our selection of players – apart from Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney – that we come to respect the opponent and win the game. We want to win the competition.
“It is an important match for us and we must find that motivation that I have found myself already.
“I have to try to pass that motivation to the players because I know that the Europa League is not the big dream of every big player.
“But you are not in the Champions League, so you have to find your motivation in the competition where you are.”
World-record signing Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has not played in the competition since 2001, are part of that show of strength in Rotterdam, where Shaw, Valencia and Rooney are the key absentees.
The Portuguese spoke of his belief in the United squad but that does not detract from the fact he believes balancing Europa League and domestic commitments will make winning the Premier League “more difficult”.
“We play Liverpool on the Monday, Fenerbahce on the Thursday and Chelsea on the Sunday,” Mourinho said, looking ahead to October.
“We know we are not going to have any support on that but my squad is good. I like my squad, I like my players.
“I have no problems doing what I did this time leaving three or four players and play with other people because they deserve this opportunity the way they work.”