Jose Mourinho has claimed that Manchester United were "in big trouble" when he was appointed as Louis van Gaal's successor last summer.
United were undergoing a prolonged period of transition following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, and finished the campaign prior to the Portuguese coach's arrival in fifth place.
And Mourinho has expressed his belief that the squad he inherited was some way behind that of their rivals.
Exclusive Jose Mourinho interview in tomorrow's Sunday Times.— Duncan Castles (@DuncanCastles) September 9, 2017
'In all the areas that make a team successful I think we stopped in time.'
“There was an evolution in the other clubs," he told the Times. "There was no evolution in this club. In all the areas that make a team successful I think we stopped in time.
“When I say ‘the club’, I say the football team and what surrounds the football team was in trouble, big trouble.
“Not the club at all. Because the club is much more than results — it’s the fanbase. It’s the passion around the world, it’s the business, it’s the commercial, it’s the merchandising.
“And a club like Manchester United as a club can be one, two, three, four, five, ten years without winning. Manchester United will always be Manchester United and as a club will never be in trouble.
“The football team I think clearly there was an evolution in other clubs, and that was quite an empty period in this club with no evolution in areas that are important for the football team. And that was the first step to try to bring the football team in the right direction.
“Of course in the first season I was trying to improve [this], but I also felt the club need to feed — at least emotionally — the fans, the self-esteem of the players, the motivation of the people.
"And you can’t do that without some success. That’s why I fought hard for trophies. And that’s why I prefer a Europa League victory than a third or fourth spot in the championship."
Such a rebuilding project inevitably requires patience, and a plan. Mourinho estimated that it would take three years to bring United back to the summit of English - and European - football, and identified the players he would need to bring in during the summer transfer windows.
“Three summers are the period because it’s in the summer where you design the future of your squad," he said. "In January you get a specific player who is in the end of his contract, you can get him in better conditions, or it’s an emergency buy.
“When I arrived we were in need of some personality and quality that could give us a sense of a personality the club lost in the past years. The club agreed totally with that [Paul] Pogba dimension, which was a player that could be a great at every level for the next 10 years.
"We go for Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] knowing he was not a player for the next five or six years, but we thought we need that player that arrives and feels, ‘The club is big, but I’m also big’.
“Mikhi [Henrikh Mkhitaryan] and [Eric] Bailly had qualities I thought the team didn’t have. Mikhi took a little bit of time but the team was lacking a player with his multifunctionality in every attacking area. And a fast, strong central defender."
And on this summer's three arrivals, he added: “[Romelu] Lukaku was my player as a kid. He left the club because at that time he was thinking he deserves more opportunity from me, but he’s such a good guy that during these years we were in close contact with a very good relationship because probably he understood that I couldn’t accelerate his timings at that moment. But a good professional. I knew that the man was there.
“[Nemanja] Matic, I cannot say that I had better guys than him in my career. He was one of ‘my guys’, was one of the guys that we kept close during these years even not working together. So I know that the big man is there, even with more maturity.
“[Victor] Lindelof was the only one that I didn’t work with. But in Portugal I control. I control inside information. I know the qualities of the people, I know many things about social life, about private life, I know because even without working for that, the informations are arriving.”