This feature on Mason Mount first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of FourFourTwo. Get yours here!
“He was a 14-year-old when I first saw him. When I first came in at Chelsea after I retired, I remember watching the under-15s at the time. I remember seeing this little kid wearing his own shirt. Everyone else had the actual kit - but because the kit was too big for him, he had his own. He had a no.26 on the back, like JT, he was wearing.
“I remember clocking him and thinking, ‘I wish we were allowed to wear our own shirts when I was his size!’ Mason had a long-sleeved shirt rolled up to look like a short-sleeve; if he’d have had a short-sleeved shirt, it would’ve looked like a long-sleeved.
“I remember asking the coach - Frank O’Brien it was - I asked him, ‘What’s the script with the little’un, with his own kit on?’ and he went, ‘Ooh you’d love him. He’s technically so good.’ Then obviously knowing that I’d put a name to this kid who was a lot smaller than everyone else on the pitch, I’d remember him any time I’d go and watch the under-15s. I was there to watch him a few times for the under-16s and I remember just thinking, yeah, this boy has just got immense ability. He was one of the ones who was standing out technically in these games but you could tell he was a bit more underdeveloped compared to some of the others: you’d wonder how he’d develop physically.
“When I was a youth team manager at Chelsea, Mason was a second-year; he was a first-year when I was the assistant. And as the manager I then had to choose a captain for the Youth Cup games - all the better players would play under-21s football but you’d usually pick one to be your captain and I remember thinking at the time, Mase isn’t loud - he was never one of the loudest on the pitch, doing all the talking - but the level of player he is, he needs to learn about taking more responsibility for others on the pitch and not just himself.
“He was so good. I was the first one to make him captain - it was in my first year in the Youth Cup and it was definitely done with the thinking that he wasn’t a natural choice for captain - he wasn’t a shouter - but I definitely wanted to put a bit of pressure on him in his year with him.
“I remember the first training session that I had with him as we were coming up to the first Youth Cup game, he was just training as normal. I remember sitting down with him and digging him out and having a bit of a go at him in front of everyone. It was almost setting a tone that if I’m going to pick on the best player and dig him out, make sure you all pull your socks up. But it was also a reminder to Mason - I’d already had a meeting with him to tell him why I was going to make him captain - that I expected more from him, talking to players and being a leader as well. You’ve got to start adding that to his game.
“He always led by example with what a great attitude he had, what a great lad he was, what a good teammate he was but I wanted to make him demanding of others. I remember pulling after the final of the Youth Cup - he was outstanding, I’d played him in a deeper role - and I said to him, “That’s exactly why I had a go at you after the first training session when I’d made you captain, you can make other players better on the pitch.” As the tournament went on, he got better and better at that.
“Listen, I’m not sitting here, claiming I’m the one who turned him into a leader but it was definitely one of those moments where being the best player wasn’t simply enough - and he certainly rose to the challenge.
How it started vs how it's going! 🤩 @MasonMount_10 pic.twitter.com/Akt4naVnDsOctober 13, 2020
“The next time I saw him after that, he’d gone on loan to Vitesse. I remember sending him a message saying, “I won’t be in touch with you much this year but all the best,” because it was one of those where he had to go away, stand on his own two feet and get away and crack on with it. It’s men’s football now: not the academy where you’ve got everyone checking, “Are you OK?” The next time I’d work with him, I was at Derby County with Frank Lampard as manager and Frank didn’t know too much about Mase. He’d come to the Youth Cup games but he didn’t know enough about him.
“I remember going to have a meeting with Mase to try and convince him. He’d obviously felt a lot about Frank, as a player at Chelsea. For me personally, Frank and JT are on their own when you think about the two greatest to play for Chelsea. And the type of midfielder that Lamps was would be a great influence on Mason, if he could add some of the things that he had in his game. I remember going to meet him and his dad - his dad and his agent were like, they had offers from all over Europe after that year at Vitesse, he finished outstandingly well - but I think of how good Frank was, with implementing his thoughts on how he could help Mase with his game. And he obviously knew me as well.
“So we added Mason to the Derby squad and, again, after the first training session, about four or five of the players came up to us in the canteen afterwards and went, ‘Oh my God’. He made a few of the Derby players stand up and think that we hadn’t just signed a kid from Chelsea with a reputation, we’ve just signed someone who can really do big things for us.
“He didn’t just have a cruising time at Derby either where he was brilliant every week, he had times where he was not quite as good as he could’ve been on the ball. But as far as he was off the ball, with his workrate and the way he set the tone for pressing, getting the ball and dealing with the physical side that so many people said he couldn’t deal with, he put that to bed. He’d stick his chest out and wanted to have it with the other midfielders. People would try and bully him and he didn’t fall for it. He showed what his mentality was like. If someone had made a tackle to one of our players in the Derby team, he’d go and look for them and make one back on them. He grew a lot at Derby and he was outstanding for us - a big reason we performed to the level that we did at Derby.
Composure. 💯11 goals from midfield in all competitions this season for @MasonMount_10! 💫 pic.twitter.com/FR73MimvEmMay 18, 2019
“You then go to the next season and again, the same question marks are thrown at him - this is a different level, this is the Premier League, it’s Chelsea - but there wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind or Frank’s that Mason could go on and perform at the level that he’d done at Derby and Vitesse. And me personally, in the whole 18 months that me and Frank were back at the club, if you look at that spell, I think Mason Mount was head and shoulders above any other performers in that team in terms of his consistency, his workrate, his performance, his day to day attitude and the way he’s grown. Under Thomas Tuchel he’s performing at that level again and proving to another top quality manager that he’s invaluable.
“I think a lot of people were worried about him being dropped for his first game - but you look at the level of manager that Tuchel is, the elite players he’s worked with the fact that Mason’s one of the first names on the team sheet speaks volumes for how Mason’s performed not just on the pitch but how he’s grown as an individual. You couldn’t ask for a better attitude: he’s now a shining beacon not just for the first team but obviously for the academy players who are coming up - he’ll be a hero to them knowing that there’ll be an opportunity for them to break into such a huge team.
“Do you know what? The only people I saw who would doubt Mason Mount were silly people on social media. You speak to anyone who’s worth their salt in football, whether they were top journalists, former players or pundits - I don’t think they were ever questioning Mount - it’s the people who were watching him from afar or those that weren’t lucky enough to get to a stadium to watch him play.
“Yes, there is an element of how he trained everyday and his attitude - of course, that has an influence - but if he wasn’t performing on the pitch for the first team, he wouldn’t have played as many games. I honestly can’t tell you how on Earth people were questioning what Mason Mount was like for Chelsea’s first team, unless they didn’t have a clue. I think people are starting to see that now. When you’ve got every single staff member and his teammates around him, the fans who are able to see him, what they think is important.
“He might not always have his best game on the ball either but tactically, he’s absolutely fantastic and understands what’s asked of him. Technically, he’s great. Can he score more goals for the type of player that he is? Yes, he can.
“But we’re still talking about a 22-year-old. You look at the chances he’s created with other Premier League greats this year, he’s up there with Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Bruno Fernandes - Mount is creating that level of chances while perhaps doing a little bit more than some of them off the ball. I never bought into the “teacher’s pet” reputation - by the way, he didn’t play every single game for Frank - and there is a side to Mason that he knows how good he is and he certainly doesn’t hide the fact when he thinks he should be playing. I think all top players do that. They understand when they’ve been rested and they understand when it’s a drop. And if he feels like he’s been harshly done by, he has enough about him to not be all smiles.
“I remember speaking to former teammates and people at Chelsea, who would tell me, ‘Mason Mount, how good was he?’ after a game. When you see him on telly, you miss so many things that go on, his brain, the positions he takes up and how he’s functioning - you don’t see it all. Sometimes being lucky enough to be in the ground is where you realise the levels that Mason is performing at.
“Even when we went through the spell of six or seven weeks where we were underperforming, he always kept at the same level. You’d go, ‘Do you know what? The team hasn’t played great today but how well did he do?’ He was one of the ones who wasn’t letting anybody down and that’s testament to his ability too where there were quite a few underperformers. I think I could count on one hand, games where Mase had underperformed at all aspects of the game. Yes he’s had games where he could have done better. But tactically he always does what is asked of him, workrate, setting the press, you’d never question that from him.
Friends from the age of six. Now ready to represent the #ThreeLions together.@_DeclanRice 🤝 @masonmount_10 pic.twitter.com/tYKM1zCRoPSeptember 6, 2019
“For me, I think the sky’s the limit. If you look at some of the greatest players to ever play in our league. Look at players like Frank, Stevie G and the numbers they were producing at 21, 22 and I’m not sure Mase is that far behind them. I think there’s always room for improvement, especially if you have the mentality that Mase has.
“We used to joke about it - I know him and Frank used to, too - by the way, up the levels, we need more from you in front of goal. The level he can get to and that he can perform at, I think he’d like to have more goals on his resume. I think he’d like to have more assists if the attacking players were players finishing off this year! And then you’re talking about De Bruyne and Fernandes numbers.
“And then you’re talking about these players as being in the top ten in the world. Because of the type of mentality he has, I don’t think he’ll pull the handbrake up at all until he carries on improving as a player. That’s one of the most endearing things about him, he wants to work at his game, get better, he wants to be told where he can improve.
“He’s getting better every year and I think he could be one of the top players for Chelsea and England over the next 10 years. I think you’re talking about a £100m player.
“I couldn’t be happier for a kid who has put everything into where he is.”
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