May 19, 2012. A date forever etched in the minds of Chelsea supporters. Mason Mount was 13-years-old and sat at home with his family, replica kit on, absorbing every detail. Petr Cech’s heroics, Didier Drogba’s bullet header, the Ivorian’s winning penalty: each moment enjoyed and endured from his living room.
Unbeknown to the midfielder at the time, it was also shaping him for the future. “I remember every part of the game,” he said last season. “Watching that as a kid, it gives you the extra fire to want to play in the Champions League because you’ve seen what the club has done before.”
That he would be standing on the cusp of emulating Frank Lampard, Drogba and company by the end of the following campaign may seem a touch Roy Race but when Mount spoke of those memories a couple of days before his competition debut against Valencia it was becoming clear to those observing closely that he possessed something a little special, that there was the ability but also drive and intuition to turn into one of English football’s stars.
Now Mount faces six weeks that could elevate him from one of Europe’s most promising young players to a fully-fledged superstar. The European Championships follows swiftly and, once he avoids the fate of Lampard nine years ago by getting an injury, the 22-year-old will be a key cog in Gareth Southgate’s much-fancied team.
Both Southgate and Thomas Tuchel have extolled his qualities at every available opportunity in the past few months, from praising his versatility and durability to his pressing and creativity. Pep Guardiola was quick to categorise him as one of the country’s elite prospects in 2019 and Lionel Messi is among the tier one players to have predicted he will join their ranks. High praise from those who matter has become routine but it has all been taken in stride.
Mount may not be an analytics darling or the type to stuff the stats sheet – scoring more is something he has admitted is an area to work on – but he is a flagbearer for the game’s intangibles, a player’s player.
“He has the full package, mentally, in terms of talent and physically,” Tuchel said. “And the most important part is his character, he has his feet on the ground and he’s a nice guy.”
That explains why he has played more minutes than any other Chelsea player in the past two seasons and why, beyond Harry Kane, it is hard to think of a more certain starter for England at the Euros. “He is an exceptional player, he finds space intelligently, he creates chances, he scores goals,” Southgate said in March. “He is a great player but I was saying this in the autumn. I suppose now that Thomas Tuchel picks him, everybody will agree. When it was Frank it didn’t count for some reason.”
Perhaps more than coincidentally the social media dwellers who abused Mount for months on end, many framing him as a teacher’s pet of Lampard, grew silent once he continued to thrive under Tuchel.
It was always a tad weird that someone so inoffensive, a young man so well-liked by almost everyone that comes into contact with him, would trigger people to such an extent that his head coaches have been asked if they are concerned about the trolls taking their toll. Mount himself has insisted he does not pay too much attention – “You see comments here and there,” he said. “I’m not one to really look too much into social media” – but ignorance of such a peculiar narrative must not be easy.
Perhaps the trolls’ issue is that he has no discernible flaws as a player, while off the pitch the closest thing to controversy in his career to date is being pictured playing five a side with Declan Rice (his best friend in case you were unaware) at the beginning of the pandemic. Or, as Lampard said, appearing in a deodorant advert.
“Mason looks clean cut. He’s doing one advert where he’s taking his top off and that’s about as edgy as he gets,” the former head coach remarked. “He’s very easy and casual, he hasn’t got an Instagram reel of flicks. He doesn’t do treble stepovers and flicks over the back of his head – as he shouldn’t do.
“He makes really efficient, clean, sharp passes, he presses as well as any midfield player I’ve worked with or played alongside. “There are a hundred things within Mason’s game that impress managers he works for. It’s a different type of football, which makes it easy for people to bracket him off. But I certainly don’t.”
He is viewed as the model of Chelsea’s academy system, the high-end product coming off English football’s most prolific conveyor belt.
That Chelsea face a City team containing the other poster boy of the academy system, Phil Foden, adds another layer to tomorrow night’s narrative. Mount, who is 17 months older, is further down the line than Foden and yet there is a greater degree of excitement around the latter.
While Messi has been praising Mount, Foden is being compared to the Barcelona legend. There are, of course, people fortunate enough to enjoy them concurrently, not viewing it as an either-or choice, but it is hard to escape the feeling that they are destined to be rivals on the club scene and partners at international level for the next decade.
Tomorrow’s game has clear consequences for England too. Most of the squad will report at the weekend for a pre-tournament camp that features a pair of friendlies in Middlesbrough, against Austria and Romania, but the half dozen Chelsea and City players involved are to be given five days off for psychological refreshment.
Two years ago seven members of Southgate’s squad reported for Nations League finals duty immediately after playing in the most recent all-English final, Liverpool’s win against Tottenham Hotspur, and earlier this week the national team’s manager recalled the emotional toll that took on a core of his squad.
While the Reds’ team had three England players, Spurs had four (six if Kieran Trippier and Harry Winks had not dropped out from the provisional group named). And dealing with picking the latter group up from the floor following defeat in the biggest game of their careers was “incredibly complicated.” England lost their semi-final to Holland in extra time with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson coming off the bench because they were too exhausted to start.
“I don’t think you could really appreciate how difficult that was in terms of preparing our team,” Southgate added. “Not only in terms of preparing for the match, but the emotional part of the winners and losers.”
With three at each club tomorrow, England will welcome glee and misery in equal portions next week. Defeat would no doubt hit Mount hard but, as Tuchel stressed, it is his character that overrides all other qualities.
“It’s impressive, he’s not affected by all the praise,” the German said. “This is maybe the most important part. He seems to be a guy who likes the sport and feels an obligation to make the most out of it. And he wants it absolutely badly, so it’s a top mix.”
Almost a decade on from Chelsea’s greatest night, it is a mix that can lead the club to a second Champions League and close the first chapter of what may well be the summer of Mason Mount.
Source by Football London