Sir Alex Ferguson has backed UEFA's controversial changes to the Champions League
The days under Ferguson's stewardship when Manchester United's annual participation in Europe's elite club competition was taken for granted are well and truly over.
After reaching three finals out of four between 2008 and 2011, United are facing the possibility of failing to qualify for a third season out of the last four – although winning the Europa League does offer a back-door route.
Jose Mourinho admitted recently that United's domination of the Premier League is over because of the increasing wealth and strength of every club, but particularly the so-called 'big six.'
So they need every help they can get to even qualify for the Champions League – let alone to make an impact when they return.
Jose Mourinho recently admitted Man United's dominance in the Premier League is over
And that's why UEFA's decision, from the start of the 2018-19 season, to guarantee direct entry into the group stages for the top four clubs from England, Spain, Germany and Italy – Europe's top four leagues – is so welcomed, not just by United but others like Liverpool, Chelsea and the Milan clubs, none of whom have played in the lucrative competition this season.
The argument that it means there will be fewer places in the group stages available to teams from the rest of Europe, that the competition is heading in the direction of a 'closed shop' and that the rich clubs will just get richer, carries no weight with Ferguson. He insists the competition must protect its image – in other word its attraction to the broadcasters and sponsors.
"The Champions League is the best tournament in the world – even above the World Cup and European Championship," he said in an interview with American radio station SiriusXM. "It's a fantastic tournament.
"And what UEFA are doing are protecting the image of it. They want the biggest clubs performing on the biggest stage.
Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates winning the Champions League with Man United in 1999
"It doesn't deter the smaller clubs form doing well. If they are good enough, they will do well. The opportunity is still there. They can win their domestic league and get to the Champions League and from there they will be in the group stage so that doesn't change.
"All that UEFA are doing is guaranteeing that the top clubs are in there at the group stage."
The changes – described as "evolution rather than revolution" by European football's governing body – mean that whoever finishes fourth next season in England, Spain, Germany and Italy no longer needs to worry about the uncertainty of playing a qualifying round in August to reach the group stages, as Manchester City did this season, United have had to do three times, and Arsenal on numerous occasions.
That in turn make it easier for a club to plan as well as raise money from sponsors. Significantly, United stand to lose a big chunk of their deal with kit sponsors Adidas and other commercial partners if they fail to qualify for the Champions League for a second successive season.
Ferguson, now a United director and ambassador, will also be well aware the other big change will also financially favour clubs who have been successful in the past – like United, who have won it three times, been beaten finalists twice, semi-finalists seven times and quarter-finalists on six occasions.
When it comes to the distribution of the cash, the coefficient rankings of the last 10 years and previous European titles will have a bearing on how much money each receives, although not on how they will be seeded.
With Tottenham, City, Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Everton all jockeying for the second, third and fourth places behind champions-elect Chelsea, Ferguson admits United could well need the safety net of the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League next season.
He added: "It's very important now because if you win it, you're into the Champions League and at the moment the Premier League is a real fight for the positions behind Chelsea with Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, ourselves. It's not going to be easy to get into the top four.
"They could do it but I look on the Europa League as a great chance. First of all, the club has never won the Europa League. It adds to the CV so we've got a good opportunity."
In the corridors of power at Old Trafford the hope is that, thanks in no small part to UEFA, United will never need to use the back door again.