COMMENT: There's Manchester United. Then there's Manchester United in the Champions League. And anyone wishing to know the difference need only check on developments surrounding Mason Mount this week...
They can object. They can disagree. But it matters. Even at a club of Manchester United's status. Having Champions League football as a carrot will always give a major club an advantage in the race for elite talent. You can have a manager of the charisma of Jurgen Klopp. A dressing room of characters like Virgil van Dijk and Alisson. But without Champions League status, it really doesn't matter. And when you mix that status with a name like United, even a run to second-place in the Premier League isn't going to sway a player.
That's what we're hearing now. Liverpool. Arsenal. Newcastle. Even Bayern Munich. They've all made contact. They've all made their initial pitches. But it's United where Mount wants to go. A Champions League qualifier. A team with momentum behind it. And with a manager in Erik ten Hag who's a fan. Mount can see the next phase of his career wearing the Red of Manchester United.
There's still some haggling to do - United unhappy with Chelsea's opening asking price of £55m. But the ball's rolling. Mount wants to leave. Chelsea are now willing to sell. And his first-choice, after months of fielding enquiries from across Europe, is Old Trafford. Champions League qualifying was decisive. If United were now where Liverpool is, it's a struggle to see Mount being persuaded. As we say, United and the Champions League is a heady mix.
The name is no longer enough. Not after these past few years. But under Ten Hag - and with the support of the club's technical director John Murtough - there's a momentum about the place. A plan can be seen. Understood. And with that, as both men have stated publicly, the elite in this game are again viewing United as a genuine career option.
And you can place Mount in that elite category. Yes, his progress has stalled this past year. But there's no doubting the talent; the potential - still at 24 - of what Mount can offer Ten Hag's team.
His admiration is obvious. The Dutchman, in his first season in charge of Ajax, watching up close as this 18 year-old unknown shook off a slow start to crown a first senior season with Vitesse Arnhem as the club's Player of the Year. Such was Mount's impact in that 2017/18 campaign, he also found a place alongside several of Ten Hag's Ajax charges in the Eredivisie Team of the Year. Lasting impressions...? Of course Ten Hag will have kept up to speed on this kid from 'the island' since then.
Indeed, as Mount's loan in Arnhem came to an end, all of Dutch football were talking about the boy from Chelsea. Then Vitesse technical director Marc van Hintum stating: "There are only a few players of that age with so much class in the world. Mason can do everything. I am convinced that he will grow into an English international."
And now Ten Hag has his chance. An opportunity to work with Mount. And it's an opportunity that makes clear sense. A player to work off a centre-forward. One to offer relief to Bruno Fernandes. But also to give Ten Hag the chance to play the Portuguese more in the quarterback role as he has to great success sporadically this season. Mount would arrive to enhance the XI and also, with his versatility, increase the depth of a squad facing the rigours of a Champions League campaign.
It's an escape route United are offering. A lifebuoy. As we've covered in this column, Chelsea will regret letting Mount slip away. The Academy staff know this. As do his senior teammates. But leaving a player feeling underappreciated, taken for granted, can only last so long. As we say, this is an escape hatch for Mount. Chelsea are in trouble. Deep trouble. The boasting to confidants in the press that wages have been slashed to an average of £70,000-a-week isn't the stuff of a football giant. It's mediocre. Mid-table. And symbolic of what this once great club, in less than 12 months, has become.
So those wage demands of Mount's were never going to be met. But they will be at United. £225-250,000-a-week will place Mount nicely in a wage structure where the likes of Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and - potentially - Marcus Rashford sit higher - as they should in terms of locker room status. There'll be no protests. No envy. Mount, after the broom Ten Hag and Murtough swept through this dressing room 12 months ago, will set foot on steady, stable ground. Everything that has now been lost at Chelsea.
Of course, there'll still be some twists and turns to navigate. Nothing is a guarantee in football. But Mason Mount choosing Manchester United. This Manchester United. It's understandable. Qualifying for the Champions League makes all the difference.