Playing in the Eredivisie made Mason Mount a better player
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Marc van Hintum held hundreds of meetings with players, parents, agents and representatives of rival clubs during almost seven years as Vitesse Arnhem’s chief scout. There was one, however, that has always remained at the absolute forefront of his mind.
Mason Mount was almost four months into his season on loan in Holland and, for all the obvious potential of a player who had just helped England win the European Under-19 Championship, he was struggling to command a regular place in manager Henk Fraser’s team.
That in itself was not totally unexpected. Mount was only 18 and it was his first season in senior football. Many other teenage Chelsea loanees had previously struggled to adapt, especially early in the experience of living and playing in a different country. Mount’s father, Tony, had accompanied Mason to the meeting, which was also joined by representatives of Chelsea.
“Mason is a winner and he wanted to play,” said Van Hintum, himself a former Dutch international. “When a player isn’t playing, he is not happy. Mason was not satisfied.”
Vitesse were still delighted that they had persuaded Mount to join them rather than follow Chelsea team-mate Tammy Abraham by going on loan in the Championship, but felt that he needed to develop his strength. They also wanted Mount to improve defensively and, having been in largely winning Chelsea teams since joining their academy at the age of six, be ready for what Van Hintum calls “the duels”.
“If you play at Chelsea, you are almost always the better club,” said Van Hintum. “But the Eredivisie is not youth football. It is adult professional football. It’s more public. There’s more responsibility, more expectation, more stress.
“We talked about his development and, at the end of the meeting, Mason’s dad turned to him and said one thing, ‘Mason, you just have to work harder’. And that was what he did. No complaining. Mason’s family knew exactly what to expect and how to act. Chelsea were the same. They would tell the players, ‘You have to cope with it, work harder’.”
Mason Mount finished his season at Vitesse with 14 goals in 25 games
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Such delicate conversations, says Van Hintum, were rarely so easy. “We also had other players from Chelsea and you would think, ‘Oh man what’s this?’ When the parents and the agent get involved, and are not on the same wavelength as the club, you know it’s going to be very difficult to develop these players. Some came in and thought, ‘This will be easy, I’m from Chelsea, what’s the Eredivisie?’ Those players had big difficulty.
“But not Mason. He was 18 and I thought that I was speaking to a 38 year-old in the way he spoke about himself, his career and how he wanted to develop. He was also humble, respectful and intelligent.
“And he soon learnt the stuff without the ball – how to fight in the duels, the running and putting pressure on the opponents. Within three or four months, we could see that he wasn’t a youth player any more but a grown-up player for the top of the Eredivisie.”
What then followed over the final seven months of the season was, according to the journalist Lex Lammers, comparable to the impact of a teenage Ruud Gullit in the Eredivisie. Mount finished the season with 14 goals in 25 games, including seven in the last six matches to inspire Vitesse into Europe. “In one of his first games, he came on against Utrecht and scored with just about his first touch,” said Lammers, who works for the Arnhem-based newspaper De Gelderlander. “Within a few months, he was by far the best player at Vitesse. It was astonishing. He conquered the Dutch league on his own. All the attention usually goes to Ajax but people were stunned by his high level.”
Mount also had to overcome regular opposition attempts at intimidation and, by the end of the season, Van Hintum is adamant that he was even surpassing the performances of Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who was named Eredivisie footballer of the year. “A lot of the older guys would try to kick him but he adapted quickly and, after that, you could see his exceptional all-round talent. He can do everything. Right foot, left foot, good with the head, faster than we thought in the first few metres. Very good mentality. Quick speed of thinking. He can score. He can run. He was unbelievably good.
“We were searching for his best position. Is it No 10 or No 8? This was interesting. We knew he was good, but the key was those three or four months when he didn’t play. He never gave up and, by about April, I said in an interview that Mason would play for Chelsea and the national team. You had to be blind not to see that.”
Mason Mount is now a Champions League winner
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The experience at Vitesse was also something which Mount could very directly draw upon in helping him adapt under Chelsea’s new manager Thomas Tuchel. “The first game with the manager [Tuchel] coming in, he went for a more experienced team,” he said. "I’d had that before. So that motivation and that fire that I have inside me came out.”
Mount clearly also made a big impression off the pitch in Arnhem and there has been genuine delight to see him become established in both the England and Chelsea teams, peaking with last month’s Champions League triumph. Lammers says that Mount was “really accessible” to the local media and he even helped him conduct interviews with his team-mates after scoring in their vital 3-2 play-off win against Utrecht. “He was always in for a joke,” he says.
Van Hintum expects Mount to thrive as he now takes the next step of playing in a major senior international tournament. “The real good players have the mentality and capacity to work harder and adapt to the next challenge.” he says. After victory over Manchester City in the Champions League final, Tony Mount also made a point of sending a text to Van Hintum to say that his son was “so grateful” for his experience with Vitesse. “Mason has an amazing family and I really think this time at Vitesse was a very important gamechanger for him,” says Van Hintum.