Manchester United's Darren Fletcher has said that the remaining five games of the club's dead season are the opportunity for the squad's players to prove that they are capable of surviving the summer overhaul.
The Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday signalled the end of an era, with Nemanja Vidic desolate as he left the stadium. But though United supporters are urging the club to find a way of enabling them to say an emotional farewell to the pillars of their great Champions League-winning side – Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra – Fletcher said that futures were now riding on the remaining games.
"If you get a chance to play, you have to go and impress the manager and show him that you are capable of being here next year," Fletcher said. "He will definitely look back on this season and realise it was a disappointment, but I fully expect there to be some signings. It is time to show the manager that you deserve to be at this club. Go and put in performances because the manager will be thinking of next season, no doubt about that. You have to make sure that you are one of the names that he still wants."
Fletcher insisted that United did want to secure Europa League qualification, even though that would render the domestic goal the players have been set – reclaiming the Premier League title – harder.
"There is a way to look at both sides," Fletcher said to the idea that United could flourish by having no European commitments. "But I think it is an opportunity for young players to get experience in Europe. There are players in that dressing room who are going to be the future of this club and they don't have the same number of Champions League games as some of us. Playing in the Europa League would help them in the long term to achieve success in the Champions League. Although the goal next season will be to win the Premier League, not merely to finish in the top four, we can then go again to try to win the Champions League again. I am sure the club would rather be in it."
Even to qualify for the Europa League next season United, who lie seventh in the Premier League, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur, must overtake Spurs with a strong showing against Everton, Norwich, Sunderland, Hull and Southampton.
Fletcher admitted that while United's disappointment with elimination by Bayern in the 2010 quarter-final was a product of believing they were the better team, there was no such view this time. "Against a top-quality side, they showed the standard it takes to win in the Champions League. We need to rise to that standard. [But] I don't think we are as far as some people think. We showed that over the two legs."
Comparative salaries – the best economic indicator of how a club will perform – suggest that the two should not be as far apart as they have looked in the past fortnight. In the last Global Sports Salaries Survey, compiled by the sporting intelligence website, Bayern were ninth in a league table of the world's leading clubs for their average first-team salary – £76,924 a week – while United were 12th – spending £75,423. Manchester City (£100,764) were comfortably top.
But buoyed by Sir Alex Ferguson's overachievement, United have drifted. His successor as manager, David Moyes, inherited a chaotic recruitment and scouting system and has also struggled to settle on a preferred team and style of play, damaging United further. The transition has been more painful than anyone imagined, though Moyes seems to have done enough to be retained for the task of leading United back.
The Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos and Southampton left-back Luke Shaw are among the main targets, with Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gündogan another possible acquisition. Nani, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez, Wilfried Zaha and Anderson could all leave.