Interview

Mason Mount: Winning smile

A Blue since the age of six, Mason Mount has had to prove himself time and again to make the grade. Now thriving under new coach Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea midfielder gives us a glimpse of the spirited determination behind that nice guy image

WORDS Chris Burke | INTERVIEW Caroline de Moraes | PHOTOGRAPHY Darren Walsh

Most people would relish being called “nice”. Friendly, open, down to earth – all are qualities typically held up for admiration. In football, however, “nice” is rarely a compliment. The word drips with connotations, suggesting a player who might be soft, a pushover, shying away from that last-ditch tackle or lacking a killer touch in front of goal. It always feels like a surprise when a top-level footballer turns out to be “nice”.

Welcome to Mason Mount’s dilemma. Often praised as one of the game’s most likeable figures, the Chelsea and England midfielder is happy to embrace the term and – typical of the nice young man he is – also quick to thank his parents Tony and Debbie for the values passed on during his early years. But this is a Mr Nice Guy who does not hesitate to draw a line, who can jettison the niceties as soon as his boots are laced.

“The person I am now is thankful for what they did when I was a little kid,” says Mount. “I would say I’m a nice guy, but on the pitch you don’t want to be nice all the time. You want to have that different edge, to be aggressive, to want to fight, to want to win, and I think I have that. But off the pitch, you’re a totally different person and I think that’s the way to be.”

Off the pitch, he is easy-going, willing to tell his story. Some players treat the media like an opposition forward to be closed down; Mount is happy to play metaphorical one-twos. He is engaging as we chat over Zoom, then smiles and jokes his way through the photoshoot for Champions Journal. That same smile lights up after full time in Seville four days later as he chats about his mouth- watering goal against Porto, his first in the Champions League. This is a young man living his moment, and ensuring it endures.

But certainly he did not get where he is by being nice. And where is that? Front of stage for both club and country at the age of 22 – a creative midfielder applauded for his close control, hard work off the ball, crisp passing and ruthless finishing. Mount looks increasingly at ease in the glare of the European game, the kind of player capable of swivelling beyond his marker in the blink of an eye before thrashing a shot into the far corner, as he did for Chelsea in their Champions League quarter-final opener.

To call that goal nice would be a crude understatement. The technique and speed of thought were exquisite, Mount receiving Jorginho’s pass, spinning past Porto left-back Zaidu and setting himself up to shoot all in one fluid motion and with a single touch. There was a brutal, delicious efficiency to it, evidence of that “different edge” which has taken Mount from the Chelsea academy at the age of six to Champions League game changer – a difficult journey so few complete.

“Tough lessons,” he says, recalling the culling process that accounted for his childhood pal Declan Rice, now a midfield regular for West Ham and England. “[There were] a lot of really, really close friends that I’d grown up with from eight years old all the way through, and next minute they’re gone. For me, seeing people go, it just gives you that fire to not be the one that’s going to be let go next, and to really keep pushing yourself, to want to be the best in every session and learn more and more.”

To have come out the other end says plenty about Mount’s hunger to succeed. His affable side made news in 2019 when he secretly paid for the meals of academy players at a café near Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, but Mount was remembering the trials of his own apprentice years, and the generosity then shown to him by the first-teamers. It took determination to make it through, the same blood-and-guts effort he knew from watching non-league football on the south coast with his dad Tony, a manager in the lower levels. But not everyone thought he would.

“I work a lot for Chelsea TV and do some of the youth games,” says former Blues winger Pat Nevin. “What’s difficult is watching all these players and working out which one of them is going to make it. And, to be honest, it wasn’t always clear that Mason was going to be one of the best, though he certainly had a good chance. But when he went on loan and started playing at Vitesse, it was clear he was developing quite quickly, and when he went to Derby on loan, his jump forward was very quick indeed. Yet the way in which he’s continued to develop has surprised everyone.”

“I definitely went there as a boy and came back after a year as a man,” says Mount of his Eredivisie stint in 2017/18, not just forced to cope with a new culture but also the new experience of being left on the sidelines. Barely used in the first two months, and still a fresh-faced teenager, he could easily have buckled. Could have, if he was someone else. “In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”

"In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”
By

A few weeks later Mount was at it again, registering against PSV Eindhoven just moments after being sent on. By the end of November, he had earned his first league start – and went on to play virtually every remaining minute of Vitesse’s campaign, finishing as the club’s player of the year and named in the Eredivisie team of the year. “It was tough for me to go out there as a young kid and experience that, but I got through it. I learned a lot about myself.”

The Dutch side’s fans got to know him too, though even they must have been surprised when Mount bought Vitesse season tickets for local health workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic two years later. By then he was already long gone, but that was one more legacy to go with his 13 goals and ten assists in 39 games, a rich harvest which inevitably drew comparisons with another prolific Chelsea midfielder.

And here we come to the Frank Lampard portion of the tale. It was under the Chelsea legend that Mount’s career blossomed back on English soil, first on loan at Derby County and then at Stamford Bridge, a “brilliant” experience enabled by Lampard’s faith in youth and a temporary transfer embargo that limited the club’s options. “On the pitch and off the pitch, he helped me grow,” says Mount, among several tyros who banished one of the most enduring clichés in the game – that Chelsea youngsters never reach the first team.

For years, John Terry had been the last home-grown prospect to make the grade, a fact that gave Mount’s family concern when he was offered a scholarship contract aged 15. “I’m not going anywhere,” came the steadfast response, from a player who has always backed himself. Hence why he has flourished alongside the likes of Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Andreas Christensen, all FA Youth Cup winners for the Blues during their five-year supremacy from 2013/14 to 2017/18.

Mount also clinched the UEFA Youth League with Abraham in 2015/16, but he faced the threat of being displaced once the club’s transfer ban was lifted last year – a threat which took the very real shape of high-profile signings Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. “People were saying he would lose his place and he was aware of that,” his father recounted in March. “I remember talking to him about it and he said, ‘They won’t take my place, I’ll raise my game.’”

So he did, though Mount was often singled out during the low points of Lampard’s tenure, his choirboy image helping to cast him as the manager’s pet project, unworthy of his spot – even the boss’s “son”. A joke, of course, but one the manager eventually felt required to address. “I think maybe he looks clean- cut,” Lampard explained. “He is doing an advert where he takes his top off and I think that’s about as edgy as he gets.” The bottom line was this: “He does 100 things within his game that impress the managers he works for.”

So impressed was Lampard, in fact, that he named Mount as captain for his last game in charge, a 3-1 FA Cup win against Luton in January. “A very special moment,” recalls Mount. “Very proud to lead the boys out on the pitch. It would have been lovely to have the full crowd and everyone there, with the fans and obviously my family as well. But it still didn’t really take anything away for me personally, having that experience, having the armband on. It’s something you dream of.”

Many believe he will end up taking the role on a permanent basis, with Terry backing him to skipper England too. As for Nevin, he sees a clear logic in Lampard’s decision, which placed Mount in the company of several proven warriors to have captained the club, including Terry, Marcel Desailly, Ron Harris and Lampard himself. “When you look at the kind of personality he is, he’s not unlike Frank Lampard in many, many ways. Not just in the way he plays but in temperament. And Frank would’ve been like, ‘No, you’re like me, you can cope with it.’”

Even so, a greater challenge awaited as Mount went straight from the captaincy to the bench three days later. New coach Thomas Tuchel was surveying his squad, a roster packed with heavyweight midfield rivals, and Mount’s name did not jump out. “He’s definitely taken my game to another level,” says Mount, but the former Paris Saint-Germain coach has received an education as well. By the time of his first-leg goal against Porto, Chelsea’s No19 was the top scorer of the Tuchel era and had slipped on the captain’s armband again.

“It’s amazing the speed with which Tuchel has figured it out and realised that, no, he absolutely is the business,” says Nevin. “When I looked at the youngsters I was most concerned about when Frank left, I will admit that Mason was probably the one. Because there was the joke that ‘He was Frank’s favourite, he was Frank’s son.’ There was no doubt he’s a bigger personality than that, a stronger personality than that. He doesn’t need to be working under a specific person. The strength of character and personality shows through in the end.”

These days, the Lampard references all tend to be positive, as when Mount scored against Albania in March to become the first Chelsea player since his old coach to provide a goal or assist in three consecutive England games. It was another reminder that this self- described football “student” is embarked on a bold path, the smiles and polite exterior concealing a competitive streak as fierce as any of his peers’. That, and his luxurious talent, will likely keep on surprising people – until they don’t, and his easy-going charm is no longer held against him. Which will be… what’s the word?

Insight
On course for greatness

As if clawing his way up the football ladder was not testing enough, Mason Mount demands the same high standards of himself on his days off too. The Chelsea midfielder is a keen amateur golfer, though not the sort just happy for the fresh air. “It’s totally different from football – much harder,” he says. “I get so frustrated sometimes when I’m out there if I shank a shot and I’ve lost a ball. It’s so frustrating because I’m so used to being good at stuff like that.”

Mount’s golfing antics earned him some gentle ribbing in March when he appeared on the cover of Sunday Times Style magazine wielding a golf club and wearing an extravagant red-and-white coat. Former Derby team-mate Harry Wilson compared him to Adam Sandler character Happy Gilmore, but Mount won’t be put off his favourite hobby. This, after all, is a player who sought alternative solutions during the recent lockdowns.

“I got a net for the garden,” he explains. “You’re probably not supposed to use a driver, but I had a driver out and my first shot… it just went straight through the net. It ripped it! And it smashed the fence, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not touching that any more!’ So, that didn’t go too well, but I’m looking forward to getting back playing. I really love being out on the course.”

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Interview

Mason Mount: Winning smile

A Blue since the age of six, Mason Mount has had to prove himself time and again to make the grade. Now thriving under new coach Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea midfielder gives us a glimpse of the spirited determination behind that nice guy image

WORDS Chris Burke | INTERVIEW Caroline de Moraes | PHOTOGRAPHY Darren Walsh

Most people would relish being called “nice”. Friendly, open, down to earth – all are qualities typically held up for admiration. In football, however, “nice” is rarely a compliment. The word drips with connotations, suggesting a player who might be soft, a pushover, shying away from that last-ditch tackle or lacking a killer touch in front of goal. It always feels like a surprise when a top-level footballer turns out to be “nice”.

Welcome to Mason Mount’s dilemma. Often praised as one of the game’s most likeable figures, the Chelsea and England midfielder is happy to embrace the term and – typical of the nice young man he is – also quick to thank his parents Tony and Debbie for the values passed on during his early years. But this is a Mr Nice Guy who does not hesitate to draw a line, who can jettison the niceties as soon as his boots are laced.

“The person I am now is thankful for what they did when I was a little kid,” says Mount. “I would say I’m a nice guy, but on the pitch you don’t want to be nice all the time. You want to have that different edge, to be aggressive, to want to fight, to want to win, and I think I have that. But off the pitch, you’re a totally different person and I think that’s the way to be.”

Off the pitch, he is easy-going, willing to tell his story. Some players treat the media like an opposition forward to be closed down; Mount is happy to play metaphorical one-twos. He is engaging as we chat over Zoom, then smiles and jokes his way through the photoshoot for Champions Journal. That same smile lights up after full time in Seville four days later as he chats about his mouth- watering goal against Porto, his first in the Champions League. This is a young man living his moment, and ensuring it endures.

But certainly he did not get where he is by being nice. And where is that? Front of stage for both club and country at the age of 22 – a creative midfielder applauded for his close control, hard work off the ball, crisp passing and ruthless finishing. Mount looks increasingly at ease in the glare of the European game, the kind of player capable of swivelling beyond his marker in the blink of an eye before thrashing a shot into the far corner, as he did for Chelsea in their Champions League quarter-final opener.

To call that goal nice would be a crude understatement. The technique and speed of thought were exquisite, Mount receiving Jorginho’s pass, spinning past Porto left-back Zaidu and setting himself up to shoot all in one fluid motion and with a single touch. There was a brutal, delicious efficiency to it, evidence of that “different edge” which has taken Mount from the Chelsea academy at the age of six to Champions League game changer – a difficult journey so few complete.

“Tough lessons,” he says, recalling the culling process that accounted for his childhood pal Declan Rice, now a midfield regular for West Ham and England. “[There were] a lot of really, really close friends that I’d grown up with from eight years old all the way through, and next minute they’re gone. For me, seeing people go, it just gives you that fire to not be the one that’s going to be let go next, and to really keep pushing yourself, to want to be the best in every session and learn more and more.”

To have come out the other end says plenty about Mount’s hunger to succeed. His affable side made news in 2019 when he secretly paid for the meals of academy players at a café near Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, but Mount was remembering the trials of his own apprentice years, and the generosity then shown to him by the first-teamers. It took determination to make it through, the same blood-and-guts effort he knew from watching non-league football on the south coast with his dad Tony, a manager in the lower levels. But not everyone thought he would.

“I work a lot for Chelsea TV and do some of the youth games,” says former Blues winger Pat Nevin. “What’s difficult is watching all these players and working out which one of them is going to make it. And, to be honest, it wasn’t always clear that Mason was going to be one of the best, though he certainly had a good chance. But when he went on loan and started playing at Vitesse, it was clear he was developing quite quickly, and when he went to Derby on loan, his jump forward was very quick indeed. Yet the way in which he’s continued to develop has surprised everyone.”

“I definitely went there as a boy and came back after a year as a man,” says Mount of his Eredivisie stint in 2017/18, not just forced to cope with a new culture but also the new experience of being left on the sidelines. Barely used in the first two months, and still a fresh-faced teenager, he could easily have buckled. Could have, if he was someone else. “In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”

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"In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”
By

A few weeks later Mount was at it again, registering against PSV Eindhoven just moments after being sent on. By the end of November, he had earned his first league start – and went on to play virtually every remaining minute of Vitesse’s campaign, finishing as the club’s player of the year and named in the Eredivisie team of the year. “It was tough for me to go out there as a young kid and experience that, but I got through it. I learned a lot about myself.”

The Dutch side’s fans got to know him too, though even they must have been surprised when Mount bought Vitesse season tickets for local health workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic two years later. By then he was already long gone, but that was one more legacy to go with his 13 goals and ten assists in 39 games, a rich harvest which inevitably drew comparisons with another prolific Chelsea midfielder.

And here we come to the Frank Lampard portion of the tale. It was under the Chelsea legend that Mount’s career blossomed back on English soil, first on loan at Derby County and then at Stamford Bridge, a “brilliant” experience enabled by Lampard’s faith in youth and a temporary transfer embargo that limited the club’s options. “On the pitch and off the pitch, he helped me grow,” says Mount, among several tyros who banished one of the most enduring clichés in the game – that Chelsea youngsters never reach the first team.

For years, John Terry had been the last home-grown prospect to make the grade, a fact that gave Mount’s family concern when he was offered a scholarship contract aged 15. “I’m not going anywhere,” came the steadfast response, from a player who has always backed himself. Hence why he has flourished alongside the likes of Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Andreas Christensen, all FA Youth Cup winners for the Blues during their five-year supremacy from 2013/14 to 2017/18.

Mount also clinched the UEFA Youth League with Abraham in 2015/16, but he faced the threat of being displaced once the club’s transfer ban was lifted last year – a threat which took the very real shape of high-profile signings Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. “People were saying he would lose his place and he was aware of that,” his father recounted in March. “I remember talking to him about it and he said, ‘They won’t take my place, I’ll raise my game.’”

So he did, though Mount was often singled out during the low points of Lampard’s tenure, his choirboy image helping to cast him as the manager’s pet project, unworthy of his spot – even the boss’s “son”. A joke, of course, but one the manager eventually felt required to address. “I think maybe he looks clean- cut,” Lampard explained. “He is doing an advert where he takes his top off and I think that’s about as edgy as he gets.” The bottom line was this: “He does 100 things within his game that impress the managers he works for.”

So impressed was Lampard, in fact, that he named Mount as captain for his last game in charge, a 3-1 FA Cup win against Luton in January. “A very special moment,” recalls Mount. “Very proud to lead the boys out on the pitch. It would have been lovely to have the full crowd and everyone there, with the fans and obviously my family as well. But it still didn’t really take anything away for me personally, having that experience, having the armband on. It’s something you dream of.”

Many believe he will end up taking the role on a permanent basis, with Terry backing him to skipper England too. As for Nevin, he sees a clear logic in Lampard’s decision, which placed Mount in the company of several proven warriors to have captained the club, including Terry, Marcel Desailly, Ron Harris and Lampard himself. “When you look at the kind of personality he is, he’s not unlike Frank Lampard in many, many ways. Not just in the way he plays but in temperament. And Frank would’ve been like, ‘No, you’re like me, you can cope with it.’”

Even so, a greater challenge awaited as Mount went straight from the captaincy to the bench three days later. New coach Thomas Tuchel was surveying his squad, a roster packed with heavyweight midfield rivals, and Mount’s name did not jump out. “He’s definitely taken my game to another level,” says Mount, but the former Paris Saint-Germain coach has received an education as well. By the time of his first-leg goal against Porto, Chelsea’s No19 was the top scorer of the Tuchel era and had slipped on the captain’s armband again.

“It’s amazing the speed with which Tuchel has figured it out and realised that, no, he absolutely is the business,” says Nevin. “When I looked at the youngsters I was most concerned about when Frank left, I will admit that Mason was probably the one. Because there was the joke that ‘He was Frank’s favourite, he was Frank’s son.’ There was no doubt he’s a bigger personality than that, a stronger personality than that. He doesn’t need to be working under a specific person. The strength of character and personality shows through in the end.”

These days, the Lampard references all tend to be positive, as when Mount scored against Albania in March to become the first Chelsea player since his old coach to provide a goal or assist in three consecutive England games. It was another reminder that this self- described football “student” is embarked on a bold path, the smiles and polite exterior concealing a competitive streak as fierce as any of his peers’. That, and his luxurious talent, will likely keep on surprising people – until they don’t, and his easy-going charm is no longer held against him. Which will be… what’s the word?

Insight
On course for greatness

As if clawing his way up the football ladder was not testing enough, Mason Mount demands the same high standards of himself on his days off too. The Chelsea midfielder is a keen amateur golfer, though not the sort just happy for the fresh air. “It’s totally different from football – much harder,” he says. “I get so frustrated sometimes when I’m out there if I shank a shot and I’ve lost a ball. It’s so frustrating because I’m so used to being good at stuff like that.”

Mount’s golfing antics earned him some gentle ribbing in March when he appeared on the cover of Sunday Times Style magazine wielding a golf club and wearing an extravagant red-and-white coat. Former Derby team-mate Harry Wilson compared him to Adam Sandler character Happy Gilmore, but Mount won’t be put off his favourite hobby. This, after all, is a player who sought alternative solutions during the recent lockdowns.

“I got a net for the garden,” he explains. “You’re probably not supposed to use a driver, but I had a driver out and my first shot… it just went straight through the net. It ripped it! And it smashed the fence, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not touching that any more!’ So, that didn’t go too well, but I’m looking forward to getting back playing. I really love being out on the course.”

Interview

Mason Mount: Winning smile

A Blue since the age of six, Mason Mount has had to prove himself time and again to make the grade. Now thriving under new coach Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea midfielder gives us a glimpse of the spirited determination behind that nice guy image

WORDS Chris Burke | INTERVIEW Caroline de Moraes | PHOTOGRAPHY Darren Walsh

Most people would relish being called “nice”. Friendly, open, down to earth – all are qualities typically held up for admiration. In football, however, “nice” is rarely a compliment. The word drips with connotations, suggesting a player who might be soft, a pushover, shying away from that last-ditch tackle or lacking a killer touch in front of goal. It always feels like a surprise when a top-level footballer turns out to be “nice”.

Welcome to Mason Mount’s dilemma. Often praised as one of the game’s most likeable figures, the Chelsea and England midfielder is happy to embrace the term and – typical of the nice young man he is – also quick to thank his parents Tony and Debbie for the values passed on during his early years. But this is a Mr Nice Guy who does not hesitate to draw a line, who can jettison the niceties as soon as his boots are laced.

“The person I am now is thankful for what they did when I was a little kid,” says Mount. “I would say I’m a nice guy, but on the pitch you don’t want to be nice all the time. You want to have that different edge, to be aggressive, to want to fight, to want to win, and I think I have that. But off the pitch, you’re a totally different person and I think that’s the way to be.”

Off the pitch, he is easy-going, willing to tell his story. Some players treat the media like an opposition forward to be closed down; Mount is happy to play metaphorical one-twos. He is engaging as we chat over Zoom, then smiles and jokes his way through the photoshoot for Champions Journal. That same smile lights up after full time in Seville four days later as he chats about his mouth- watering goal against Porto, his first in the Champions League. This is a young man living his moment, and ensuring it endures.

But certainly he did not get where he is by being nice. And where is that? Front of stage for both club and country at the age of 22 – a creative midfielder applauded for his close control, hard work off the ball, crisp passing and ruthless finishing. Mount looks increasingly at ease in the glare of the European game, the kind of player capable of swivelling beyond his marker in the blink of an eye before thrashing a shot into the far corner, as he did for Chelsea in their Champions League quarter-final opener.

To call that goal nice would be a crude understatement. The technique and speed of thought were exquisite, Mount receiving Jorginho’s pass, spinning past Porto left-back Zaidu and setting himself up to shoot all in one fluid motion and with a single touch. There was a brutal, delicious efficiency to it, evidence of that “different edge” which has taken Mount from the Chelsea academy at the age of six to Champions League game changer – a difficult journey so few complete.

“Tough lessons,” he says, recalling the culling process that accounted for his childhood pal Declan Rice, now a midfield regular for West Ham and England. “[There were] a lot of really, really close friends that I’d grown up with from eight years old all the way through, and next minute they’re gone. For me, seeing people go, it just gives you that fire to not be the one that’s going to be let go next, and to really keep pushing yourself, to want to be the best in every session and learn more and more.”

To have come out the other end says plenty about Mount’s hunger to succeed. His affable side made news in 2019 when he secretly paid for the meals of academy players at a café near Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, but Mount was remembering the trials of his own apprentice years, and the generosity then shown to him by the first-teamers. It took determination to make it through, the same blood-and-guts effort he knew from watching non-league football on the south coast with his dad Tony, a manager in the lower levels. But not everyone thought he would.

“I work a lot for Chelsea TV and do some of the youth games,” says former Blues winger Pat Nevin. “What’s difficult is watching all these players and working out which one of them is going to make it. And, to be honest, it wasn’t always clear that Mason was going to be one of the best, though he certainly had a good chance. But when he went on loan and started playing at Vitesse, it was clear he was developing quite quickly, and when he went to Derby on loan, his jump forward was very quick indeed. Yet the way in which he’s continued to develop has surprised everyone.”

“I definitely went there as a boy and came back after a year as a man,” says Mount of his Eredivisie stint in 2017/18, not just forced to cope with a new culture but also the new experience of being left on the sidelines. Barely used in the first two months, and still a fresh-faced teenager, he could easily have buckled. Could have, if he was someone else. “In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”

"In my head I was thinking, ‘If I get a minute on the pitch, or if I get ten minutes or 30 seconds, I’m gonna take it. Any chance I get, I’m gonna take it.’ And in one of my first games, I came on and scored within, I think, 30 seconds or a minute.”
By

A few weeks later Mount was at it again, registering against PSV Eindhoven just moments after being sent on. By the end of November, he had earned his first league start – and went on to play virtually every remaining minute of Vitesse’s campaign, finishing as the club’s player of the year and named in the Eredivisie team of the year. “It was tough for me to go out there as a young kid and experience that, but I got through it. I learned a lot about myself.”

The Dutch side’s fans got to know him too, though even they must have been surprised when Mount bought Vitesse season tickets for local health workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic two years later. By then he was already long gone, but that was one more legacy to go with his 13 goals and ten assists in 39 games, a rich harvest which inevitably drew comparisons with another prolific Chelsea midfielder.

And here we come to the Frank Lampard portion of the tale. It was under the Chelsea legend that Mount’s career blossomed back on English soil, first on loan at Derby County and then at Stamford Bridge, a “brilliant” experience enabled by Lampard’s faith in youth and a temporary transfer embargo that limited the club’s options. “On the pitch and off the pitch, he helped me grow,” says Mount, among several tyros who banished one of the most enduring clichés in the game – that Chelsea youngsters never reach the first team.

For years, John Terry had been the last home-grown prospect to make the grade, a fact that gave Mount’s family concern when he was offered a scholarship contract aged 15. “I’m not going anywhere,” came the steadfast response, from a player who has always backed himself. Hence why he has flourished alongside the likes of Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Andreas Christensen, all FA Youth Cup winners for the Blues during their five-year supremacy from 2013/14 to 2017/18.

Mount also clinched the UEFA Youth League with Abraham in 2015/16, but he faced the threat of being displaced once the club’s transfer ban was lifted last year – a threat which took the very real shape of high-profile signings Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. “People were saying he would lose his place and he was aware of that,” his father recounted in March. “I remember talking to him about it and he said, ‘They won’t take my place, I’ll raise my game.’”

So he did, though Mount was often singled out during the low points of Lampard’s tenure, his choirboy image helping to cast him as the manager’s pet project, unworthy of his spot – even the boss’s “son”. A joke, of course, but one the manager eventually felt required to address. “I think maybe he looks clean- cut,” Lampard explained. “He is doing an advert where he takes his top off and I think that’s about as edgy as he gets.” The bottom line was this: “He does 100 things within his game that impress the managers he works for.”

So impressed was Lampard, in fact, that he named Mount as captain for his last game in charge, a 3-1 FA Cup win against Luton in January. “A very special moment,” recalls Mount. “Very proud to lead the boys out on the pitch. It would have been lovely to have the full crowd and everyone there, with the fans and obviously my family as well. But it still didn’t really take anything away for me personally, having that experience, having the armband on. It’s something you dream of.”

Many believe he will end up taking the role on a permanent basis, with Terry backing him to skipper England too. As for Nevin, he sees a clear logic in Lampard’s decision, which placed Mount in the company of several proven warriors to have captained the club, including Terry, Marcel Desailly, Ron Harris and Lampard himself. “When you look at the kind of personality he is, he’s not unlike Frank Lampard in many, many ways. Not just in the way he plays but in temperament. And Frank would’ve been like, ‘No, you’re like me, you can cope with it.’”

Even so, a greater challenge awaited as Mount went straight from the captaincy to the bench three days later. New coach Thomas Tuchel was surveying his squad, a roster packed with heavyweight midfield rivals, and Mount’s name did not jump out. “He’s definitely taken my game to another level,” says Mount, but the former Paris Saint-Germain coach has received an education as well. By the time of his first-leg goal against Porto, Chelsea’s No19 was the top scorer of the Tuchel era and had slipped on the captain’s armband again.

“It’s amazing the speed with which Tuchel has figured it out and realised that, no, he absolutely is the business,” says Nevin. “When I looked at the youngsters I was most concerned about when Frank left, I will admit that Mason was probably the one. Because there was the joke that ‘He was Frank’s favourite, he was Frank’s son.’ There was no doubt he’s a bigger personality than that, a stronger personality than that. He doesn’t need to be working under a specific person. The strength of character and personality shows through in the end.”

These days, the Lampard references all tend to be positive, as when Mount scored against Albania in March to become the first Chelsea player since his old coach to provide a goal or assist in three consecutive England games. It was another reminder that this self- described football “student” is embarked on a bold path, the smiles and polite exterior concealing a competitive streak as fierce as any of his peers’. That, and his luxurious talent, will likely keep on surprising people – until they don’t, and his easy-going charm is no longer held against him. Which will be… what’s the word?

Insight
On course for greatness

As if clawing his way up the football ladder was not testing enough, Mason Mount demands the same high standards of himself on his days off too. The Chelsea midfielder is a keen amateur golfer, though not the sort just happy for the fresh air. “It’s totally different from football – much harder,” he says. “I get so frustrated sometimes when I’m out there if I shank a shot and I’ve lost a ball. It’s so frustrating because I’m so used to being good at stuff like that.”

Mount’s golfing antics earned him some gentle ribbing in March when he appeared on the cover of Sunday Times Style magazine wielding a golf club and wearing an extravagant red-and-white coat. Former Derby team-mate Harry Wilson compared him to Adam Sandler character Happy Gilmore, but Mount won’t be put off his favourite hobby. This, after all, is a player who sought alternative solutions during the recent lockdowns.

“I got a net for the garden,” he explains. “You’re probably not supposed to use a driver, but I had a driver out and my first shot… it just went straight through the net. It ripped it! And it smashed the fence, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not touching that any more!’ So, that didn’t go too well, but I’m looking forward to getting back playing. I really love being out on the course.”

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