Gary Neville admits it is “unacceptable” for Manchester United to be setting targets below becoming champions, but feels “top four and winning a trophy would be a successful season” in 2019-20.
The Red Devils have endured a humbling fall from grace since Sir Alex Ferguson headed into retirement back in 2013.
A side so accustomed to challenging for major honours has become an also-ran, with a sixth-place finish last season leaving them empty-handed on the trophy front and without Champions League football.
Neville, who won eight titles in his day, concedes that there is still a major rebuilding job to be overseen at Old Trafford, with United having to rein in their ambition as a result.
He told Sky Sports: “Top four and winning a trophy would be a successful season. That's where Manchester United are at.
“That is unacceptable in terms of where United need to be, but they are incapable - after six or seven years of poor recruitment - of going from seventh, sixth or fifth into first. They are nowhere near that at this moment in time.
“They are going to have to have three or four good transfer windows. The most important thing in the last window wasn't just adding two or three players of the right type, it was making sure they didn't make any further mistakes. I don't think they've done that.
“I think Man Utd this season would be stronger with [Ander] Herrera, [Marouane] Fellaini and [Romelu] Lukaku, but in the long term, they won't be because those players will never get Man Utd where they need to be.
“Of course, Man Utd have to win the Premier League title. That has to be the barometer and should never change, but you can't go from not liking the team with average football to winning the league. There's a step in the middle of getting better football, liking the team and then you can start moving up.
“I think being on the right track this season is more important than fifth, fourth or third. People have to start liking the team again.”
Neville admits that will not be easy, but is encouraged by the emphasis Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is placing on youth and potential superstars of tomorrow.
The former Red Devils defender added: “I actually think United have taken a step backwards but a step in the right direction to go forwards because enough is enough of all these 30-year-old players coming in, not suiting the style. They've got to stop that because it's not worked for the club.
“What I'm saying is they've changed direction. Whether you like it or I like it, it's a change of direction. In Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, they've got younger players who have hopefully got a future at Manchester United for the next 10 years. The three of them have started well.
“There's a sense that Manchester United have got young players - are they good enough or are they not? I look at the young players in the team against Leicester and there's Wan-Bissaka, [Andreas] Pereira, [Scott] McTominay, James and [Marcus] Rashford.
“I say to myself are they good enough? At this moment in time, no. They've still got to prove themselves. They all look promising and they are working at their maximum in every single match.”