Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has claimed that he would never have sold Danny Welbeck, Angel di Maria or Javier Hernandez and said that it was a "sad" club that he inherited from his predecessor Louis van Gaal, who parted company with all three.
Mourinho, who worked under Van Gaal at Barcelona, has becoming increasing critical of his one-time mentor during his first season as the Dutchman's successor and said in an interview with the BBC's Gary Lineker that the club has fallen so far that fans have an unreal expectation that the club is "ready to win everything."
The 54-year-old said: "I think I found a sad club. Manchester United sold players that I would never sell and bought players that I would never buy - but probably when I leave a club people say that."
Pressed by Lineker, Mourinho named the three forwards. "No way" would he have sold them, he said.
The interview's greatest significance resides in the unusual candour Mourinho shows about the gulf between the capabilities and expectations of the United side he has inherited, which included a declaration that he never sees the club returning to the kind of domination Old Trafford knew under Alex Ferguson.
"Forget. It's not possible," he said to the notion of United recovering former glories on the same scale.
"Don't try to go back 10-20 years ago because it's not possible any more. I've many, many doubts that (continual) dominance is going to (come) back to the Premier League.
"So, win titles, try to be back to the Champions League, try to win in Europe. But the business has to be empathy with our fans and that is based on the quality of our football."
The gulf in creative class between United and Chelsea in last Monday's FA Cup quarter-final only went to show the immediate shortcomings.
"The gap between our true potential and the expectations we create. . . there is a gap," Mourinho said.
"We are not ready to be Manchester United. We are not ready to win everything. Because of our nature - the players, myself, the will of the players - we are ready to fight for every game, point, every objective: that is no doubt.
"But there is a space between the general ambition of such a giant club and what we are, in reality.
"Many other teams in England are going to finish the season without a trophy and we have one and half - the League Cup and Community Shield. That's good but we have to fight for top four. The League Cup is not enough for us to say, at the end of February, 'the season is over'."
Mourinho hinted that the challenge he has faced at Old Trafford is his biggest in football - not because United is the "biggest" club, he explained, but because it was "easier to (achieve) the objectives" at his other clubs.
In the interview, broadcast on BBC2's Premier League Show, Mourinho was at pains to say that his side were tactically more offensive than the previous clubs he has managed.
"I try always with my team to play the way that suits them. We normally dominate matches and normally have a lot of the ball," he said.
"We normally create a lot of chances - but we need to kill matches and we need to kill opponents. You cannot play open, you cannot be offensive. If you do not kill, you are killed. I won so many titles in my career being the other way around." (© Independent News Service)