Jose Mourinho has admitted it could take another two years to restore Manchester United to their former glory.
United were outclassed by Real Madrid in their 2-1 UEFA Super Cup defeat to the reigning Champions League holders in Skopje on Tuesday.
Although Mourinho led United to Europa League and League Cup success last season, he conceded they remain some way behind the likes of Real and the team can be weighed down by wearing the badge.
United’s global appeal and commercial pull may not have diminished in the fallow years since Sir Alex Ferguson stood down with their last title in 2013.
But Mourinho accepts United are lagging behind Europe’s elite on the pitch – despite him having spent close to £300million in one year – and it could be some time before they are back at that exalted level.
“Manchester United are one of the top three football clubs in the world, no doubt about it,” said Mourinho. “But the football club is one thing and the team’s credentials going into a a competition are another thing entirely. We have a giant on our chest, which is really heavy, but we don’t compare our potential to the biggest clubs in Europe right now.
“We’ll take it step by step and be humble.”
Mourinho also claimed the new-found wealth of clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had made his task harder in taking United back to a position of dominance, given the increased economic might and competition on the modern football landscape, despite their own financial strength.
“Because Manchester United is a real giant, it doesn’t matter if the club is somewhat far away from that level for three, four, five or 10 years,” said Mourinho. “It doesn’t matter – the club will always be a giant. But our job is to try to bring the football club back to that stature.
“That’s really difficult these days.
“Before, the giants were the powerful ones economically, and now there are small clubs in terms of prestige and history, who are giants economically. That changes absolutely everything.
“I want the team to be on a par with the club’s history, which is something I’ve been lucky enough to feel at every club – there was the same kind of feeling at Inter and at Real Madrid. We’re going to do that, step by step.
“Last season, we won trophies.
“Playing against the European champions, it’s like we’re back at the [Champions League] theatre, back at that level. This is where we want to be.
“We’ll improve the team and try to be at that level, to constantly be improving. And I think we’re going to reach that level as a football team in the next couple of years.”
Mourinho has already spent £140million this summer on Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, with one more potential signing to come before the August 31 transfer deadline.
The United boss made waves in the market last summer too, including bringing Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford from Juventus for a then world-record fee of £89m.
Pogba divided opinion in his debut campaign after four seasons in Italy, with Mourinho claiming the he was subjected to unfair scrutiny because of his huge fee.
“I’m more than happy [with Pogba], I’m really happy,” said the United boss. “I feel the way people analyse him is really unfair. It’s like, because he was so expensive, he should be Man of the Match every game.
“I’m totally convinced this season will be even better for him, and that playing in the Champions League against the best teams and players will take some pressure off him, because in the Europa League, he was obviously one of the two or three biggest stars.”
Mourinho conceded he does not have anywhere near the same quality of squad as Real, but claimed the togetherness of his United squad can go some way to bridging that gap, as it did in them winning the Europa League.
“I always say that the tight-knit nature of our group is why did it [won the Europa League] — the friendship between all of us,” he said.
“I know so many people in football, I’ve spoken to many of them this summer, and they’ve all laughed and said that they’d never before seen the image of five players on crutches going onto the pitch and celebrating winning a trophy.
“It was a first for me, too.
“We lost five important players at crucial moments of the season, we were missing players, we had to play every two days, we fought to finish in the top four of the Premier League, we had games in hand because of our cup successes, so we had to play matches later.
“We did it because we are a fantastic group.
“Maybe not the best squad in the world, maybe not a squad full of stars, but a squad full of friends, of good and nice people.
“We went all out for the Europa League and in that match, the final, we were playing for the last trophy the club had never won, plus Champions League qualification.
“We were playing for so many things that night, so we had reasons to be really happy.”