Opinion: Manchester United are in good shape compared to the "in-between" years

The news of Sir Alex Ferguson's ill health sent shock waves through football. Thankfully, it appears he is on the mend and the signs of a positive recovery look good. The obituaries can wait.

Still, when it was first known that he was seriously ill it was inevitable that his career would be poured over. And what a career. Even before he graced Old Trafford he was a winner.

That the Manchester United board stuck with him through thick and thin speaks volumes, but everyone connected with United must be grateful they did. Had they cut the ties, United's loss would have been someone else's gain.

You can't change history, and history shows that Sir Alex turned United from a sleeping giant into a world superpower. 

Every fan of football, not just United, were justified in reflecting in his achievements in the wake of his sudden health problem. Although this wasn't the nicest time do so, remembering the genius of Sir Alex is never a bad thing.

That he was admitted to hospital on the back of a defeat to Brighton meant that those wonderful memories put the current team into the spotlight. 

The current United side has just secured a second place finish to a wonderful Manchester City side. It was never a title race though. United, going into the last game are 19 points behind City. 

In Sir Alex's second season - his first full season - United finished second. They finished nine points behind a wonderful Liverpool side. Like then, this year is no disgrace. It is simply a fact that United need to improve.

It took Sir Alex a further five years to actually start to knock Liverpool "off their perch" and actually claim League title. For all United fans, they should hope that the current board may show the same patience with Jose Mourinho.

Why? Well, history is the best place to start. Sir Alex wasn't the only great Knight to have been at the helm at United. Sir Matt Busby was too. And he was the foundation for the current United.

The sleeping giant may have been awoken by Sir Alex, but the giant was such because of Sir Matt. 

A long list of heroes, two stewards

Sir Matt created the "Busby Babes", a team of fantastic, young footballers, of whom many perished in Munich. His determination ensured that United continued to experience glory.

Yet in the years between Sir Matt retiring and Sir Alex tasting success in the form of the FA Cup in 1990, United had three FA Cups to show for their endeavours. In 21 years. Three major trophies in over two decades.

There is a Twitter account entitled "United Before Fergie". Any United supporter that does not know what United were before Sir Alex took the helm should take a look now and then.

It chronicles certain players, certain events, and some glorious times when United were not so successful. You don't have to have success to enjoy your team, and this illustrates things perfectly.

Because Sir Alex Ferguson is synonymous with success, it is obvious that fans want that to continue. Sir Alex Ferguson was a genius and it is not so straightforward as the "in-between" years show. 

If Jose Mourinho wins the FA Cup - which the odds are now 50-50 as United have reached the final - then he could have achieved three major trophies in two years for Manchester United. 

If he doesn't he will still be the only United manager to have won one, let alone two major trophies in his first year at the club. A second place finish shows improvement, even though it would need a huge amount of improvement to take the next step.

A second place, albeit a distant one, is not to be sniffed at and it actually does show progress. However, the City Juggernaut could take some stopping and it will take a remarkable effort to dethrone them next year.

Look 30 miles away...

If any further context is needed to understand the difficulties of staying at the top can be, then Liverpool is the example. United went 26 years between the Knights in winning the league.

Liverpool have now gone 28. They dominated in the way United did, and City may. They have won many more trophies than United did in their barren spell, but they are no closer to United to ending their league drought.

If United are still playing catch up, then so are Liverpool. 

So Mourinho and this United should be afforded some slack. Yes, certain players have not performed week in, week out. Certain players have been excluded.

It is not clear whether Mourinho is honest in his press conferences but the one before West Ham had honesty written all over it. The players need to show consistency. Some players can, some can't. He has to live with the ones who can't. Until the summer.

He is correct, but despite his veiled dig at City with their spending, he still has a lot of talent at his disposal. And he has had money and seen one of his signings depart already. So Mourinho, as well as the players, needs to up his game.

All that aside, there is an accusation that United are not playing in either Sir Matt's or Sir Alex's blueprint. It is a fair accusation when you isolate certain games.

You don't have to be a "United before Fergie" supporter though to have seen United under Louis van Gaal.  The football was painstaking and even worse than some of the games under Mourinho.

Any United fan that hasn't lived in the years before Sir Alex is unfortunate, The reason being is that they haven't really understood what real failure is.

Three trophies in 21 years represent failure. 

Mourinho's United team has produced some excellent performances. A few "Fergie time" comebacks. He hasn't diminished the spirit. He is pragmatic, and if you want an entertaining team over a winning team then Jose is not your man.

He isn't Scottish or a Knight of the Realm. If Manchester United want to stop the neighbours from being the dominant force then they need to keep Mourinho as long as they can.