Following an eighth-place finish in the 1969–70 season and a poor start to the 1970–71 season, Busby was persuaded to temporarily resume managerial duties, and McGuinness returned to his position as reserve team coach. In June 1971, Frank O’Farrell was appointed as manager, but lasted just 18 months before being replaced by Tommy Docherty in December 1972. Docherty saved Manchester United from relegation that season, only to see them relegated in 1974; by that time the trio of Best, Law, and Charlton had left the club. The team won promotion at the first attempt and reached the FA Cup final in 1976, but were beaten by Southampton. They reached the final again in 1977, beating Liverpool 2–1. Docherty was dismissed shortly afterwards, following the revelation of his affair with the club physiotherapist’s wife.
Dave Sexton replaced Docherty as manager in the summer of 1977. Despite major signings, including Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Gary Bailey, and Ray Wilkins, the team failed to achieve any significant results; they finished in the top two in 1979–80 and lost to Arsenal in the 1979 FA Cup Final. Sexton was dismissed in 1981, even though the team won the last seven games under his direction. He was replaced by Ron Atkinson, who immediately broke the British record transfer fee to sign Bryan Robson from West Bromwich Albion. Under Atkinson, Manchester United won the FA Cup twice in three years – in 1983 and 1985. In 1985–86, after 13 wins and two draws in its first 15 matches, the club was favourite to win the league, but finished in fourth place. The following season, with the club in danger of relegation by November, Atkinson was dismissed.