The first-ever UEFA Europa Conference League final between AS Roma and Feyenoord had somewhat of an Arsenal feel to it with two loanees pitted against each other whilst a former player and a summer transfer target also featured.
In the end, it was Ainsley Maitland-Niles – who was an unused substitute on Wednesday night – celebrating thanks to Nicolo Zaniolo’s first-half strike which separated the two teams and allowed Jose Mourinho to make history by becoming only the second manager to win five European titles.
But as one Gunners loanee experienced the highs of winning a major trophy, it was the opposite end of the spectrum for Reiss Nelson who was understandably crestfallen at the final whistle as he collected his runners-up medal and looked on as Tammy Abraham led Roma’s celebrations.
With Arsenal allowing a number of players to leave on loan this season, the fact some joined a club involved in a European competition meant there were likely to be some interesting battles along the way.
One of which came in the Europa Conference League semi-final as Nelson’s Feyenoord overcame William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi’s Marseille with the winger claiming an assist for Luis Sinisterra to make it 2-0 after just 20 minutes played in the first-leg with a pass that was described as ‘perfect’ by the BT Sport commentary team.
And as Maitland-Niles’ Roma beat Leicester City to qualify for the first-ever final in the competition, it set up the last Arsenal loan battle of the season nicely. Of course, there could only be one winner in terms of lifting the trophy and that honour went to the versatile midfielder.
As expected, once the final whistle blew, Maitland-Niles joined the rest of the Roma players and staff by celebrating with their fans who had made the trip to Albania to witness the team win a major European final for the first time in their history – a feat Mourinho described as ‘historic’.
“There are so many things going through my head. So many things at the same time,” a teary-eyed Mourinho told Sky Sport Italia. “I’ve been at Roma for 11 months, I realised the moment I arrived what it meant, they were waiting for this. As I told the lads in the locker room in Turin, we did what we needed to do, qualify for the Europa League. We had great work all season.
“This was not work tonight, this was history. We had to write history. We wrote it. The Conference League is a competition that we had the sensation from the start we could win, but it got a stronger competition when the Europa League teams came in, Leicester City, Olympique Marseille and Feyenoord. But we were counting on it, we could’ve had a few more points in Serie A, but we put so much into this competition.”
In a show of class, during the post-match celebrations, Maitland-Niles found time to console Nelson and the pair shared a warm embrace before going to collect their respective medals. Furthermore, as seen in the image above, former Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan hugged his ex-teammate.
Whilst Nelson didn’t get the result he would have wanted, his overall loan spell is said to have impressed his parent club and he could yet have a role to play under Mikel Arteta next season, especially with Nicolas Pepe keen to depart in the summer transfer window and Europa League football on the table.