A strange cross of awkward height was struck by Jorginho into Mason Mount’s vicinity. Many would have controlled the ball poorly, or just let it hurtle on through to the goalkeeper. But Mount raised his right leg and pinged the ball down under his spell. An extra touch invited a needless challenge from Pablo Marí. Mount was duly tripped to the floor, won a penalty and presented an off-form Chelsea a route back into their derby with Arsenal.
Jorginho missed the penalty, the Gunners won 3-1, and then-manager Frank Lampard’s troubles were only compounded.
That moment represented something bigger, though. On a night when so many of his teammates emphatically weren’t, Mount had been both up for the task and up to the task. The pass into him could barely have been worse, but he made the most of it and fashioned a chance for his team from the penalty spot. It encapsulates the very issue that sees the Chelsea midfielder so hugely underappreciated in football circles — so much of what he does is nuanced and unremarkable. In a sport where only the audacious graces Twitter and only the spectacular makes the highlights reel, Mount stands out as one of the brightest talents England has produced for a long time. His predicament: people struggle to acknowledge the good that he does.
Mount was very highly thought-of at Cobham for a number of years, and then he became seen somewhat as Frank Lampard’s Little Project™ when the former Chelsea legend took Mount with him on loan during his first managerial role — in the Championship with Derby County — in 2018/19. The young attacking midfielder backed up a very impressive season on loan at Chelsea’s Dutch sister club Vitesse with another prolific campaign. 11 goals in 44 games for Derby showed him to be an obvious talent with more than an eye for goal.
Lampard securing the Chelsea job in summer 2019 therefore always looked set to accelerate Mount’s progression enormously. What speaks for itself is that despite Lampard being able to call on Kai Havertz, Jorginho, Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovačić to play in Mount’s position or similar, he featured in a staggering 80 of Chelsea’s 84 matches under the England great.
He didn’t make the starting line-up in Thomas Tuchel’s first match in charge, and it certainly showed. Chelsea drew with a wobbly Wolves side, managed only five shots throughout the match, and looked considerably better once Mount was introduced in the 83rd minute. Tuchel will soon come to see why Lampard trusted him so much. The 22-year-old captained Chelsea in the FA Cup win over Luton Town on Sunday that transpired to be Lampard’s last game at the helm. Mount’s captaincy seemed a perfectly earnest parting gift, albeit perfectly unplanned in reality. Lampard couldn’t have known he’d be sacked less than 24 hours later.Embed from Getty Images
Of course, Lampard hasn’t been Mount’s only manager for the last 18 months. So impressive were his club displays that he forced his way into the England team, where Gareth Southgate famously/infamously took a great liking to him. Mount on England duty presents much the same story as his Chelsea existence under Lampard — his manager trusted him immensely, and he repaid him with performances that left him virtually undroppable.
Since the richly capped England youth player was first welcomed into the seniors 14 matches ago, Southgate has neglected to pick Mount on only one occasion, resting him in Reykjavík in September 2020. Never in that time has he lasted the full 90 minutes, but which playmaker would in this most competitive of national teams? Three goals and an assist in that time — his second goal a winner against the world’s top-ranked side Belgium — have only reinforced his stature in Southgate’s mind.
Yet because of his many subtle selling points, a number of fans feel he is vastly overhyped and picked much too often. Perhaps it is no coincidence though that both Lampard and Southgate have had accomplished alternatives at their disposals but proceeded to select Mount game in game out. There’s more to football than saving penalties, clearing the ball off the line, and hitting 25 goals a season. Mount does pretty much everything else with minimal fuss and consummate ease.Embed from Getty Images
One of the Anglocentric football world’s most popular social media conundrums of late has been the question of whether Southgate should select Mount or Aston Villa skipper Jack Grealish for England. While this was a genuine question the England boss had to ask himself once, he really did only have to answer it once. It came in the October 2020 international break’s second match, against Belgium. Grealish had played and dazzled in a friendly win over Wales a few days earlier and fans were clamouring to see him start again versus the Belgians. Mount was shoehorned onto the wing instead. Fans of all clubs went ballistic.
The end result was of course a 2-1 England win with Mount scoring the winner. Southgate had had the last laugh. But the situation had only arisen because of an injury to Raheem Sterling and a poor patch of form for Jadon Sancho. While Mount won the game — albeit with a handy deflection — he wouldn’t usually be utilised as a winger. The Mount–Grealish dilemma lived on, but these two are different sorts of players. Under England’s 3-4-3 system, playmaker Mount is after a central midfield position (owing to his adaptability); Grealish wants a spot out wide.
The abuse Mount has received for not showing the glimpses of magic we see from Grealish, the unfathomable skill of Phil Foden, or the regular flurry of top-class goals from James Maddison has been vile. What’s more, it has been completely unmerited, given his excellent performances for Chelsea and England. Worst of all, it’s gone largely unchallenged. It simply has to stop. He just recently turned 22. These are the formative years of the young man’s career and life. Mason Mount must not be vilified merely for not being Jack Grealish or Phil Foden or James Maddison. He doesn’t write the team sheets. He’s picked by managers who watch him train daily, and he’s clearly picked for a reason.Embed from Getty Images
Even if he does now fall well out of favour at Chelsea under new manager Tuchel, his place in England’s European Championships squad is still all but confirmed. When a manager can only take 23 men to a tournament incorporating up to seven fixtures, certain factors come into play more than others. Southgate will pick players whose work rates are second to none, whose performances are consistent and who are positionally adaptable. These are all factors on the pitch. Off it, he’ll want the conscientious type — willing to help others, keen to lead, and always operating with a smile on their face.
Mount’s a shoo-in. He may as well start packing his toothbrush and phone charger now. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to carry on doing your thing and just slip under the radar. The greatest successes often come from those we underestimated.