Jose Mourinho has admitted Manchester United do not want to be in the Europa League but intends to make the best out of the situation.
Speaking at a news conference, the United manager pledged to take their participation seriously ahead of Thursday’s opening Group A game against Feyenoord in Rotterdam and warned his squad they risk another humiliation like last season’s defeat by FC Midtylland if not fully ready for the task ahead.
Mourinho who dropped Wayne Rooney behind, says that the Premier League and television broadcasters have made their campaign difficult by handing them a tight schedule next month when they face Liverpool, Fenerbahce and Chelsea in the space of a week.
“Look, this is not a competition that Man United wants,” Mourinho said on arrival in Holland.
“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 know the group phase is not easy. I know that the group phase could be perfectly a Champions League group phase with clubs that fight for the title like Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and Man United, but this is the competition where we are.
“I think you can see by our selection of players – apart from Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney – that we came to terms with respect to the opponent and we come to win the game. We want to win the competition.
“It is difficult to do it but it is simple to feel it and say it, and this is the way we want to approach the competition.
“Tomorrow 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.”
The United manager warned his players not to be complacent, giving a reminder of what happened to United under Louis van Gaal last season in the Europa League. They lost a first-leg tie away against FC Midtjylland.
Mourinho said: “If you see what happened last season, against Midtjylland, you don’t forget that as a fan. Maybe as a player but not the fans. We have to make sure we are not sleeping.”
Discussing the situation with the stadium, he added: “There is not player or manager who wants to play in an empty stadium. We are lucky it is not closed, just half of it, but half is not the same as full. Every player wants a great atmosphere.
“I remember clearly what happened against Roma [when some Feyenoord fans caused trouble, leading to the Dutch club being punished]. I don’t think this is Feyenoord. Feyenoord is much bigger than a few hundred that created that situation.
“But, in the end, the clubs are punished by these actions. The players are going to be punished, I am punished, [Feyenoord manager Giovanni] van Bronckhorst will be punished.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Ander Herrera has said that he will “never give up” in his new deeper role. The Spaniard was brought into that position as a substitute against Manchester City on Saturday and it helped United to improve in the second half although they lost 2-1.
Herrera said: “I can make mistakes because I am human but what I am not going to do is give up. Never. I try to share my energy with the team, to win the ball back as quick as possible.
“I will keep doing the same the manager wants me to play. I am a team player and I am ready. I will do what the manager asks me.”
When asked about Mourinho’s message after the derby, Herrera said: “All I can say is that he has shown us his confidence. He believes in us.
“They were better than us in the first half, we have to accept that, no excuses. But next time we face a team like Man City, who like to play from their keeper, we will do it better. You have to learn from every situation.”