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Andy Cole puts an alarming timescale on Manchester United's return to the top

Red Devils so hard to watch and way behind top dogs, says legend Cole
Andy Cole

Andy Cole

Sunday World

Andy Cole has issued a stark warning to Manchester United and placed an alarming timescale on their hopes of a return to the winners' circle.

United's disastrous season ended with a shambolic last day defeat at Crystal Palace last month, ensuring the most successful club in the Premier League era sank to a desperate new low.

Dutch coach Erik ten Hag has been handed the task of reviving United after his arrival from Ajax, yet Cole has told the Sunday World in an exclusive interview that it will take "many, many years" before his former club will be challenging for the game's top honours once again.

Speaking at a Bookmakers.com event in London, Cole outlined a grim future for the club he helped to take to the pinnacle of the game by spearheading their historic Treble-winning campaign in 1999.

"How long will it be before Manchester United are competitive again? It's years away and I worry about how long it will be," began Cole, speaking with real emotion as he summed up the plight of his former club.

"This won't be fixed in one or two transfer windows, no chance. The problems in that team are so deep now that it will take a lot longer than that.

"People need to stop wearing blindfolds and thinking this new manager Erik ten Hag will come in, sign a few players and everything will be okay again.

Erik ten Hag

Erik ten Hag

"That isn't how football works. Manchester United finished sixth this season and they were lucky to finish sixth. They were a long way from being good enough and the performances time and again showed that.

"Then you look at the teams at the top of the table and they are light years ahead. I don't want to know how many points behind Manchester City and Liverpool they were in the end, but it was a lot and that gap is real. It can't be closed quickly.

"Look at Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham... they are all years away from competing with the top two and United are in that boat as well.

"If it was only going to take a couple of transfer windows to get close to City and Liverpool, the other teams would not be 20 and 30 points behind them this season."

Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata are among the expensive flops who have already confirmed they are leaving United this summer and while Ten Hag has ambitious plans in the transfer market, bringing top players to United will not be easy.

Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong (left) is at the top of Ten Hag's wish list, yet the Dutch midfielder he worked with at Ajax has already stated publicly that he would rather stay with his current club than move to United.

And that could be a recurring problem for Ten Hag as he starts a huge rebuilding job at United, with top players reluctant to join a club that has been in terminal decline since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013.

Cole openly admits he struggled to watch United in the season that ended with the club collecting their lowest points total in the Premier League era - and he suggests Ten Hag needs to be given the duration of his three-year contract to end United's woes.

Cole shone at Newcastle and then won huge stash of silverware at Old Trafford

Cole shone at Newcastle and then won huge stash of silverware at Old Trafford

"We are all struggling to find excuses or explain what has happened and let's be honest here, this season was a very bitter pill to swallow," he continued.

"As an ex-player, knowing what the club was all about when I was there, I get really disappointed when I watch this United team.

"Maybe it shouldn't have such a negative effect on me, but unfortunately it is hard for us to accept what has happened, I'm not gonna lie. Then I look at the teams at the top and United could not be further away from them.

"City and Liverpool have been building their squads for years and they are getting the success now after those years of work.

"You remember that Jurgen Klopp didn't win anything for a few years at Liverpool and then the trophies started rolling in.

"It was the same story for Alex Ferguson when he started at United, but there is no guarantee this new manager will be the one to get it right."

Ten Hag (inset) has just started his role at United after being handed a three-year contract to succeed in a job that has proved to be beyond some of the game's modern managerial greats.

Now Cole has called for the club's fans to show patience with Ten Hag as he aims to complete an overhaul that will be as comprehensive as any undertaken by a Manchester United manager.

"He needs to be given time and money to try and get the job done, but anyone who thinks this is a quick fix are kidding themselves," he added.

"We have to be honest and say the target next season is top four and I would never sit here and try to pretend we are not years away from competing with them.

"This new manager needs to be backed and that means giving him the duration of his contract. Give him three years, let's see what he can do and we have to accept there will be some pain along the way.

"If it's not working in a few months, changing again might not be the answer. The club have backed Erik ten Hag to do the job, so let's give him the time to see if he is the right choice.

"He will bring in his own players and it is a transitional period again, which has been a familiar story for United in recent years.

"Every time you change managers, a new guy comes in with fresh ideas and a new list of players he wants. That creates upheaval and success never comes quickly on that scenario."

Cole's brutal verdict on United will send a shiver down the spine of their supporters, but it is hard to argue with any element of his verdict.

Andy Cole's career

Born: October 15th 1971 in Nottingham

Played for: Arsenal, Bristol City, Newcastle, Manchester United, Blackburn, Fulham, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest

Cole played one league game for Arsenal and was sold to Bristol City in 1992.

He scored 55 goals in 70 matches for Newcastle and moved to Man United in 1995.

Cole scored 121 goals for United, winning five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and was part of their 1999 Treble winning team.

* The former striker sits third in the all-time Premier League scoring charts with 187 goals.

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