Manchester United are guaranteed to finish outside of the top four again this season, says Ron Atkinson, with the Red Devils enduring the kind of “transitional period” that fellow heavyweights such as Barcelona have been able to avoid.
Those at Old Trafford have found themselves stuck in a rut since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson headed into retirement back in 2013.
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have failed to wake a sleeping giant from its slumber, with sporadic success in cup competitions the best that a club with 13 Premier League titles to its name has been able to muster.
Former United boss Atkinson, who preceded Ferguson in Manchester, admits there is still much work for the Red Devils to do after rolling the dice with a succession of proven coaches that struggled to deliver.
He told the Daily Mail: “David Moyes was on a six-year contract and thought he was on a rebuild from start to finish.
“At the time, they were talking about transition. Barcelona don’t have a transitional period. Now I think United are in one — I don’t think for a minute they will make the top four.
“Louis van Gaal was certainly different. At times I thought he made Jose Mourinho look like a shrinking violet. I was manager of Manchester United and also played against them. If you were the opposing manager at Old Trafford, I would say, ‘As soon as you go out that door, be on your toes because they will come for you hell for leather in the first 20 minutes’.
“When I was in the other dugout I would say, ‘They’re expecting it, don’t disappoint them’. I don’t think Van Gaal bought into that.
“I was a big Mourinho fan but for some reason he didn’t lighten up enough for me. Instead of saying after a game, ‘We got away with that today’, he’d start putting fingers up saying, ‘I’ve won five’. Don’t do it.
“When he first came to Chelsea he was abrasive but funny abrasive. Maybe he can rediscover that at Tottenham. I hope he does.”
Questions have been asked of his future, with another change in the dugout mooted by some, but Atkinson says patience has to be shown with somebody if the kind of consistency that United are crying out for is to be returned to their ranks.
He added: “Unless it’s an absolute disaster they should stick with what they’ve got until the end of the season at least.
“I think he should be given the January window. I know it’s not that easy to deal in it but his first three signings [Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James] are decent. If Maguire had gone to Manchester City they would win the league.
“The [Mauricio] Pochettino thing complicates it a bit. It was mentioned even when he was in a job at Tottenham. Now he’s out of a job it will be talked about even more.”