Paul Ince believes Manchester United will need several years to make up ground on their arch-rivals Liverpool, who remain on the verge of clinching their first league title in 30 years.
The postponement of football remains Liverpool’s only obstacle, and Ince suggests the chasm that has opened up between the two giants of the English game will not close any time soon.
After winning the Champions League last season, Jurgen Klopp’s side have dominated domestically this season and Ince believes his two former clubs are destined to operate at different levels for some time to come.
Having played for the first United team to win the Premier League before later joining Liverpool and witnessing firsthand their struggles to regain the title, he is uniquely positioned to judge the ever-changing balance of power between England’s two most successful football clubs.
“It will take a long time to catch up and if anyone at Old Trafford thinks it can be done in a couple of years with some big money signings, they are kidding themselves,” Ince told Planet Football at a Paddy Power event.
“I would look at the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson as a starting point for where we have got to now, with Liverpool so far ahead of United.
“David Moyes came into United at that time, didn’t get the time or money he needed to do the job and then they moved on to Louis van Gaal, who never seemed to be the right for fit United, despite winning the FA Cup in 2016.
“After that, you had Jose Mourinho and he didn’t look happy from day one, even though he won a couple of trophies in his first seasons.
“It was all about Mourinho sniping at the press, problems behind the scenes with Paul Pogba and there was a general mood of discontent at the club.
“Then they turned to Ole and he is very inexperienced for a job of that side. To manage Cardiff, Molde and then end up in charge of the biggest club in the world was always going to be tough for him and I’m not surprised that he has struggled.
“The end result is there has been a lot of damage caused by the instability at the club over the last six years and at the same time, Liverpool have had stability, especially since Klopp came in. Liverpool have had a plan, they stuck to it even when things didn’t go great for Klopp in his first year and now they are getting the rewards.
“At United, managers have come and gone, they’ve had their own ideas on players, spent fortunes on terrible signings and they found themselves 30 points behind Liverpool at the halfway point of the season, which is embarrassing for a club of United’s stature.”
Ince suggests Liverpool’s mentality has changed after they won last season’s Champions League final against Tottenham, comparing that success to United’s triumph in the 1990 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.
“What changed for us at United was winning that first trophy,” he says. “We won the FA Cup and then beat Barcelona in the Cup Winners’ Cup final in Rotterdam and when we went in for pre-season training and there was a different vibe around the place.
“We were winners and we expected to carry on winning. The first Premier League title didn’t seem as big a task after we won a European trophy and it drove us on for more and more.
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“That is what I see at Liverpool this season. They won the Champions League in June and have kicked on from there. They are hungry, they are ready for it and Manchester City have not been up to the task of sticking with them this time.
“I give all the credit in the world to Klopp and his players. They had a massive high winning the Champions League and that came on the back of the massive low of losing out in the title race after getting 97 points and losing just one game all season.
“You look back to 2014 and the last time Liverpool nearly won the league, they fell apart the next season and Brendan Rodgers ended up getting sacked because they took one too many punches in the stomach, but this Liverpool team are made of stronger stuff.
Klopp has built them superbly, piece by piece. He has bought a spine in Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, with players like Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane improving so much since he arrived at the club.
“They have a fantastic spine and that’s what United are lacking at the moment, primarily because their transfer dealings have been absolutely horrendous. There is no point beating around the bush here.
“Ed Woodward (United’s chief transfer guru) has failed in his transfer dealings and I don’t think United can move forward until he is replaced or someone comes in to help with transfers who understands the game.”
By Adam Flowers
Paul Ince is a Paddy Power ambassador and you can read his views at news.paddypower.com