Wayne Rooney claims Manchester United averted ‘disaster’ by securing a top four finish in the Premier League.
United will return to the Champions League next season, if they safely navigate a two-legged qualifier in August, after recovering from last season’s seventh-placed finish under David Moyes to return to the top four under Louis van Gaal.
Despite achieving their pre-season objective, United ultimately stumbled over the finish line by winning just once, and scoring a mere three goals, during their final six games.
But United captain Rooney admits that, while the club reached their target, they cannot aim so low again in the future.
“The least we wanted was a top-four finish because, after last season, for this football club it would've been a disaster if we didn't make the top four,” Rooney said.
“It would have been nice to win some silverware - that's why the Arsenal defeat in the FA Cup was so disappointing - but in terms of the Premier League, the most vital thing for us was getting in the top four.”
United have already started the rebuilding process ahead of next season, with Dutch winger Memphis Depay arriving in a £25m deal from PSV Eindhoven and Colombian forward Radamel Falcao sent back to Monaco after failing to earn a permanent transfer following a dismal campaign on loan at Old Trafford.
And with the club expected to match last summer’s £150m investment in the playing squad, Rooney believes that United can challenge for the title against next season.
“I believe we are (close),” Rooney said. “You take the first 10 games and I think we had 13 points. When you consider from after that amount of games to where we've finished, we've probably got as many points after that as anyone else.
“I think we're close, there's no doubt about it. You can see in our performances, we're outplaying teams, dominating possession, and it's just that final thing of taking our chances.
“In the defeat at Chelsea, if I had scored that chance with my left foot then it could have been a completely different game and might have put them under a bit of pressure - it might have been a lot closer than it's finished.
“But as a group of players, myself and the manager - we all believe we're close and I'm sure with a player or two in the summer we'll have a good chance of going for the title.”
United defender Phil Jones, who is close to agreeing a new contract at Old Trafford, insisted the team must start next season well in order to improve on this campaign.
“We need to start well next season, for definite,” Jones said. “But listen, we are not kidding ourselves. We are not absolutely ecstatic about finishing in fourth - that is not the case at all. We are satisfied at finishing fourth and the aim was to finish in that position at least at the start of the season.
“We have done what we needed to do in a way, but we need to improve upon that next season.
“We will go away now and have a rest, recuperate and think about the season and how we have done, what we can improve on and we will come back ready to go again.”