Mason’s second coming

Published : Mar 07, 2015 00:00 IST

Back with Tottenham, the midfielder impressed in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal in September last year. Since then, Mason has gone on to make a further 20 appearances for Tottenham and is often preferred to Paulinho and Mousa Dembele.

Ryan Mason is a rare commodity. A young, homegrown English footballer making a big impact in the Barclays Premier League, although the Tottenham midfielder would be the first to admit he is hardly an overnight sensation.

Mason was handed his first-team debut by Harry Redknapp as a late substitute in a UEFA Cup tie at NEC Nijmegen in Sweden at the age of 17, but had to wait nearly six years before starting his first league game for the London club. He had clearly taken the long route into top-flight first-team football when he lined up for Tottenham in a north London derby against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in September last year.

Mason has featured regularly under Mauricio Pochettino since, and a whopping five-and-a-half-year contract, signed in January, is testimony to his dogged perseverance. His new deal will keep him at White Hart Lane until 2020. He has already been there 16 years and is still only 23. So where has he been and why did it take him so long?

Former Tottenham midfielder Micky Hazard was among the first to spot his talent, noting the seven-year-old’s “footballing brain” when he attended one of his soccer schools in Hertfordshire. Hazard soon took Mason to Tottenham’s academy where he progressed through the age groups, and at 17 caught the serious attention of Redknapp and his first-team coaching staff. After his cameo role in Sweden, the Enfield-born midfielder finished the 2008/09 season with 29 goals in 31 appearances for Tottenham in the Premier Academy League.

Mason went out on loan for the first time in the summer of 2009, spending the whole of that season at Yeovil in League One, scoring six goals in 29 appearances under Terry Skiverton.

Redknapp, still not convinced Mason would feature regularly in his own first-team plans, signed off another loan move, this time with Doncaster in the Championship, where Sean O’Driscoll quickly became an admirer.

Mason was restricted to 15 appearances for Doncaster during the 2010/11 season and a succession of injuries cast doubts about his physique and whether he was robust enough to withstand the rigours of life at the top of the game.

He spent hours in the gym in a bid to bulk up, but the extra weight did not serve his slender frame well and further fitness problems scuppered his chances of making the breakthrough at Tottenham.

Mason was on the fringes of a first-team place at White Hart Lane at the start of the 2012/13 season. He started in a Capital One Cup win at Carlisle in September, but a knee injury saw him slip down the pecking order, and in January 2013 he embarked on an ill-fated loan spell in France with Ligue 1 side Lorient.

He reasoned it was better to try his luck in the French top flight than spend another season in the Championship but hardly kicked a ball in France, and although he refused to cut short his stay, he could not wait for the season to end.

Mason, back with Tottenham, ditched all the bench-pressing and relies now instead on his natural wiry strength. He recently said he is currently the lightest he has been for a long time but also the strongest.

Pochettino was named as Tottenham’s new manager in the summer of 2014 and his arrival signalled an upturn in Mason’s fortunes at the club.

The Argentine is an advocate of homegrown talent, having seen so many young players flourish during his time at Southampton and a fully fit Mason quickly caught his eye. After impressing in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal in September, Mason has gone on to make a further 20 appearances for Tottenham and is often preferred to Paulinho and Mousa Dembele.

It has been a long, hard road and Mason admits he considered moving away from White Hart Lane, but if he lacks brute strength there is no denying his staying power. He learned to graft and ‘play ugly’ during his loan spells away and Tottenham have demonstrated at last that Mason can play an integral part in their long-term plans.

Mason is not married.FACTFILENAME: Ryan MasonPOSITION: MidfielderCLUB: Tottenham HotspurD.O.B: 13/06/1991INTERNATIONAL APPEARANCES: 0

MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Stepped off the bench to crash a 30-yard equaliser into the top corner in Capital One Cup win at Nottingham Forest in September, and made his first league start in Spurs' next match.

MOMENT TO FORGET: Opted for a loan spell in France in January 2013 with Ligue 1 side Lorient where he failed to make a single first-team appearance.

© PA Sport

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