Ryan Mason: Middle-man

Where there are Tottenham fans there is usually division.  The fanbase isn’t overly-fractious, but - particularly in recent years - there always seems to be a degree of in-fighting.  The manager, the chairman, the owner, the tactics; the supporters never quite manage to reach a consensus on any of it.

Lately, the contention du jour has been Ryan Mason.  Unlike Harry Kane, whose rise has been meteoric and met with giddy celebration, Mason’s regular inclusion in the first-team is not universally welcomed.

Maybe in part, he’s been done a disservice by his former academy-mate’s success.  Kane’s transition into Premier League life has been so seamless and so successful that, perhaps, it has distorted some of the usual challenges facing younger players.  The forward didn’t just settle in the Tottenham team, he arrived in it, starred in it, and then quickly became its leader, its primary threat, and its talisman.

Mason is different.  He earned his place in the side almost by default.  There were no glorious Europa League nights and no supporting wave of public goodwill, only a paucity of midfield options for Mauricio Pochettino and a hole that desperately needed filling.

So yes, his opportunity was more fortuitous than earned.

But that’s not say that he hasn’t performed well.  There are holes in his game and, especially in recent weeks, the league’s ruthlessness has exposed some costly naivety, but his ratio of good-to-bad has been very healthy up until now.

And maybe this is the mistake which is being made?  Instead of focusing on what Mason can do and what he might be capable of in the future, his detractors have been busy making lists of his failures.  Whereas Kane was an instant success, he has experienced a steeper learning curve and, because their emergence has been almost simultaneous, that contrast has cast the latter in an unfavourable light.

It as if, for some, the usual rules no longer apply and that a player is either good enough for the first-team or he isn’t.  No room for adjustment, no margin for error: binary judgement.

There are things that Ryan Mason doesn’t do well: his defensive decision-making can be poor, his pressing discipline can become ragged and he probably doesn’t get forward quite as much as he should.  For some, those are just symptoms of his inexperience, but for others they are certain proof that he’ll never quite be good enough for this level of the game.

What happened to refinement?  What happened to looking at a young player and judging him not on what he can’t do, but on what he might be capable of in the future.  Mason has shown the ability to defend, the ability to press and, occasionally, the ability to get forward and be the extra body in an opponent’s final-third.

That he doesn’t those things consistently well is neither nor there.  What Tottenham fans should be looking at, is not whether he currently is the perfect midfield option in Pochettino’s system, but whether he has the potential to grow into that role.  At this stage of his development, the pertinent questions are as to whether he has the right traits or habits and if, from that starting point, his building blocks can be carved into something more impressive.

Consider Mauricio Pochettino’s governing midfield principles: accurate, reliable and aggressive use of possession, a high work-rate, defensive-awareness, and the willingness to contribute to multiple phases of the game.  Mason has, cumulatively across the season, ticked all of those boxes.  Maybe not in pen, but at least in pencil.

For now, that should be good enough.  His is a promise which should be embraced and cultivated, not trampled down and dismissed at the first sign of imperfection.

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3 Comments on "Ryan Mason: Middle-man"

  1. Very good article, SSB. I have come to the conclusion that the Spurs fan base has a large contingent of myopic individuals, mainly middle-aged males with prostate problems who long for the Greater Redknapp. They have a particular axe to grind with anything related to Pochettino. Mason’s performances have withered of late and his decisions are those of a tired, cluttered mind. Kane’s form has also dipped, but no criticism has come his way. I agree that Mason can improve and am surprised that some believe he’s hit a glass ceiling based on no obvious facts. He appears to be a student of the game as is Bentaleb, and I think the summer will help. I think Pochettino has kept him going as he seems to think that some of Mason’s issues are psychological.

  2. On any given day, Kane will make more mistakes than Ryan Mason. Mason’s are simply more costly. I’m not sure that either he or Bentaleb have been well served by playing as much as they have, or by playing alongside each other. Imagine the two of them playing in front of Ledley King or John Terry or with Leicester’s Cambiasso. The problem is they seem to have been left out there to learn the most complex position in the modern game, and to sink or swim together without the sort of field leadership that Spurs are missing.
    Mason is finishing the season poorly (as is Eriksen) but don’t let that detract from the reality of his what he has done this year, and expect him to come back in August stronger, and smarter. By contrast Harry K has genuine skill issues that need to be addressed. His game with his back to the goal is not good and in the latter part of the season too many teams were able to turn him around. He has more to do than Mason

  3. Mr. Greaves | May 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm |

    I think Mason has done really well. In recent weeks his game has fallen away compared to earlier in the season, but that is all down to fatigue. Potchettino has played, played and overplayed him and others, rather than do the sensible thing of rotation - the boy just needs a rest.

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