Manchester United have just completed their worst ever Premier League season and their worst in the top flight for 41 years.
That's in terms of the gap between them and the champions. It was 33 points this season, one more than last term. Two seasons ago, Jose Mourinho had them within 19 points of Manchester City. The serially derided Louis van Gaal finished his seasons 15 and 17 points shy of the summit. Back in the 1989-'90 season when United finished 13th, they were still just 31 points behind Liverpool.
The 33-point gap is actually the largest to ever separate United and the top-flight champions. Even when they were relegated in 1973-1974, the gap between Leeds United at the top and the Red Devils in the second from bottom spot was just 30 points. That's not a fair comparison because there were two points for a win in those days. When you convert the old system to the new, the last time United were this far off the pace was actually in 1979-'80 when they finished ninth under Dave Sexton in the season Trevor Francis became the world's first £1 million-pound player.
The gap was 23 points then but 37 in new money. Though United did manage to reach the FA Cup final where they lost 3-2 to Arsenal. Convert the 1973-'74 table and you find United finishing 44 points behind the champions. Not such a massive difference from now, is it? And they played 42 games in those bygone seasons.
You can argue that what matters most is not the amount of points by which Manchester United trailed Liverpool but the fact that they've qualified for the Champions League in third place. And you might be right.
But the fact remains that the last time Manchester United were this far adrift of the top, Nottingham Forest were the champions of Europe. United still claim to be the biggest club in the world, fit to rival the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Standards are high at Old Trafford, we hear. The club is ambitious and the fans are hungry for success.
But what counts as success for Manchester United these days? Mourinho's second place two seasons ago was regarded as underwhelming by the Old Trafford faithful because he'd finished a whopping 19 points behind City.
If you believe that Manchester United aspire to be champions, then the past couple of seasons have seen them slip further away from that target. And the evidence is that they do aspire to be champions.
For all the blather about the parsimony of the club's owners, United actually had the highest wage bill in the current Premier League, their £332 million easily outstripping Liverpool's £264 million and Manchester City's £260 million. It is the highest wage bill in Premier League history.
In David De Gea, they possess the Premier League's highest-paid player with Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial also in the top six. Pogba is the league's most expensive signing and Harry Maguire the second most expensive as well as being the world's most costly defender.
Romelu Lukaku would be the third most expensive if he was still in the league. You don't pay out that kind of money merely to scrape into the top four.
Which is why pretending Solskjaer has just been vindicated makes no sense. You know who celebrated making the Champions League? Arsenal when they started to decline under Arsene Wenger and Spurs in the last few years. It's not a very Manchester United thing to do. Not at those prices.
Solskjaer's third place doesn't prove he's the man for the job any more than Mourinho's second place did. Liverpool's unparalleled dominance before they got bored showed the Premier League's current lack of strength in depth yet only once in the competition's history have United accrued fewer than this season's total of 66 points. That was in 2013-'14, AKA The Mad Season Of Moyes And Giggs, when they still managed 64.
With Chelsea hampered by a transfer ban, Spurs and Arsenal changing managers midstream and Leicester producing one of the great all-time collapses, it was never easier to make the top four. United deserve credit for going unbeaten since January but it's the kind of run a strong team can make in the current Premier League.
They managed one in the middle of last season too while earlier this season Leicester had eight wins on the trot. The fact that United pay their players more than three times as much than all but five other Premier League clubs was bound to tell in the end. The wage bill of the nine lowest-paid clubs put together is less than United's.
United paid around £5 million per point, Liverpool £2.6 million, Leicester around £1.1 million, Wolves just over half a million and Sheffield United roughly £240,000. If the Blades had the same return on investment as United, they'd have ended up with three points. This is the way of the world. You expect a club like United to splash the cash.
But when the expenditure disparity is so great and the battle between United and a depleted Leicester was still in the balance until the latter gifted the former a penalty ten minutes after Jamie Vardy had hit the crossbar on the hour, why pretend this season represents a triumph for club and manager?
It was a triumph like one of those glorious imperial triumphs when the British Army would use their machine guns to shoot down a few thousand natives armed with spears. It's easy enough to be a general in those circumstances.
You'd nearly manage it yourself.