A sumptuous turn and precise finish for Chelsea in their Champions League win over Porto was the latest example of the rich quality Mason Mount undoubtedly possesses. Pricey new signings Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech have stuttered and faltered so far in their first months at Stamford Bridge. In their effective absence, Mount has reached new levels and led by example. It’s refreshing to occasionally just pause and recall quite how young England’s prodigious talents are. Mount is 22; he was born in 1999. It’s no wonder talk about England’s final Euros squad continues to dominate debate. Has a 23-man squad ever seemed so frustratingly restrictive?
The inevitable drawback from having no dearth of excellent players at his disposal is that Gareth Southgate will have quite a few very awkward phone calls to make. Some very capable young footballers are going to be left rather deflated. But Southgate is primarily accountable not to individuals but to the nation he represents. In no uncertain terms, his job is to win Euro 2020, no less. His squad, therefore, should and will be a reflection of that main goal. It is for this reason that his 23 will almost certainly be too conservative and cautious for many supporters’ liking.
It has been a good few months now since his England last dazzled in an international, since they wound up the Creativitymeter and let it run free to do its thing. His in-game management can sometimes be found wanting; that’s a legitimate criticism of Southgate. Yet the 50-year-old seems to have sussed out international football quite commendably here.Embed from Getty Images
The way to stop France scoring against them at the Euros will not be by flooding the XI with countless playmakers and strikers, however well that team might fare on Fantasy Football. Too many past England managers were so overwhelmed by the talent at their disposal that they seemed to chuck it into the Creativitymeter, pressed the On switch and hoped for the best. England have failed to even reach any of the last 26 major tournament finals. It’s safe to say that the ‘Come on, someone just give me something’ approach did not work.
Someone that can give you something out of almost nothing is Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish — a man who seems more caricature than real-life person at times, such is his legend as both a player ‘Un-English in style’ and owner of some comically inflated calves. In the autumn, when a number of Southgate’s more established wide-forwards were injured, the fallacious Grealish versus Mount debate was born. In reality, the two of them play in different positions. When Mount was selected to start out wide in England’s win over Belgium ahead of Grealish, the criticism for Southgate always picking him started to shift. No longer was it being directed at the England manager. The player himself was now receiving a tirade of online abuse. And all for what? Agreeing to play when picked?
Mount spoke to EnglandFootball.org about how much those unfair comparisons and downright cruel comments bother him. It revealed a lot about his resilience and his character. “I’ve spoken a bit about it before,” he began. “I don’t look into anything like that, any negativity [that] anyone has said. My main focus is what I do on the pitch and [to] try and do that to the highest level that I can, if that’s at Chelsea or if that’s away when I’m with England. That’s what I can affect. So, any time I’m training, any time I have the opportunity to play, I want to do the best I can. So that’s my main focus and that’s what I’ve always done since a little kid.”Embed from Getty Images
He was speaking ahead of England’s 5-0 win over San Marino, which kickstarted an international break in which Mount would feature heavily in all three games. Since making his senior debut against Bulgaria in September 2019, he has played a part in 16 of the Three Lions’ 17 games. He has been described recently as one of the first names on Southgate’s team-sheet. But it’s a measure of the man that he is convinced his work here is far from done. “No one is undroppable, I don’t think.” Perhaps not, but he’s getting mightily close.
“No one is undroppable”Mason Mount on his status in the England team
There was a moment in a recent England press conference when Mount was asked about the three different positions he took up in a single recent Premier League match under Thomas Tuchel. He waited patiently to answer as the reporter finished the question. Before his mouth had even opened, he grinned mischievously. It had actually been five positions, not three, he was keen to insist. That said a lot. It’s rare for an Englishman to be trusted in so many roles — even rarer for the player to not feel undervalued by being utilised with a degree of flexibility.
His goals are less frequent and his style less skills-based than a Phil Foden or a Grealish type, but Southgate loves Mount for his adaptability. On the ball he is one of Europe’s biggest threats in his age bracket. Meanwhile, off it, he’s tireless in pressing opponents and isn’t afraid to shuttle in midfield, engaging in the dirty work to turn over possession quickly when it’s been lost. For one player to be able to fulfil all of those functions in a single 90 minutes is invaluable. Tournaments call for such wide-ranging mastery.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s hugely important in any game,” Southgate told EnglandFootball.org when asked about the importance of versatile players. “You can face tactical changes of the opponent at any time. So, [it’s vital] to have players with a really good understanding and that have that tactical awareness and can make good decisions on the field and adjust and find the spaces depending on where the pressure is or understand which lines to press down so that they can affect the balls into the opposition.
“You can’t have too many intelligent footballers. I think players that are coming through our academies now are much more switched on to that type. They’re exposed to a really good level of coaching at a young age, they’re watching a high level of football at the weekends, and now we’ve got top managers from around Europe working in the clubs as well. It’s definitely had a positive impact on English players and on English coaches.”Embed from Getty Images
And so Southgate, the pragmatist who maximised his own personal armoury as a player, seems to have found the composure and the courage to repeat such a feat in management. However, there are two sides to every coin. His critics will more likely call it the stifling of a Golden Generation due to him running scared of what the big-hitters might do against his side this summer. The proof, Gareth and your fervid despisers, will be in the pudding. The pudding will be a European Championships in which England play almost exclusively at their Wembley Stadium home.
Mason Mount is still the undeserving scapegoat — a young man still seen by many to personify Southgate’s prosaic attempt at trophy-shaped deferred gratification. A considerable “I told you so” moment will play out in due course. But who will be saying it, and who will it be aimed at? The unassuming manager or the fans who want a gung-ho approach to England goals galore? Find out after the (summer international) break.