Who is he?
Ryan Mason has been one of the most highly-rated players in the Spurs academy for years, making his first team debut in the UEFA Cup back in 2008 at only 17 years old. Fast forward five years, and the now 22 year-old hasn't had the impact many expected of him.
When he first burst onto the scene, the attacking midfielder topped the goalscoring charts in our U-18 side two years running. In '09, his goalscoring and creativity saw him earn a loan to Yeovil in League One where he excelled alongside fellow loanee Steven Caulker. Since then, several more lower-league loans have followed.
He finally earned his first start for the senior side this season when Spurs took on Carlisle in the Carling (suck it, Capital One) Cup, playing in an unfamiliar role alongside Tom Huddlestone in central midfield. He had a solid game in an unfamiliar position, shuttling forward well to support the attack, though his wayward shooting left a lot to be desired.
He was subsequently shipped out to Lorient in Ligue Un, where he received precisely zero minutes of playing time.
What can he do?
Mason is perhaps the most technically proficient of Spurs youth players, and had been the crown jewel of the academy for years.From his preferred position behind the striker, he shows excellent control, passing and vision, along with an eye for goal. He's adept at playing from wide areas as well, and in recent years has had success playing deeper in central midfield. He's got a very good footballing IQ and devotes himself to honing his craft and studying the game. By all accounts, he should be fighting for a first team place by now.
What went wrong?
In a word, injuries. Since his successful loan spell at Yeovil, his career has been plagued by injury. He missed most of the 2010-11 season while at Doncaster after a bad tackle saw him stretchered off the pitch. Injury blighted 2011-12 as well, limiting him to only five appearances with Doncaster and a further five at the end of the year on loan to Millwall.
This past season he seemingly put his injury woes behind him, but surprisingly didn't feature much at all with the first team. In January, the coaching staff decided to send him to a more technical league where his style would be better suited, but his time in France was a total disaster and he failed to log a single minute with the club.
Aside from the injuries that have slowed his development, concerns have always been raised over Mason's physique. He's a slender 5'9 and the typical concerns about not being able to handle the rugged and manly world of EPL football have swirled around him for years. Whether this is an actual problem remains to be seen.
Where can he go?
If his coaches are to be believed, Mason has the talent and dedication to be playing regularly at a high level in any league in the world. But his injury history and lack of playing time during crucial development years appear to have set him back to a worrying degree. At 22 he's one of the wise old heads of the Spurs youth setup, and he isn't getting any younger. Swindon are rumored to have expressed interest in taking him on loan, but another stint in League One is definitely not what he needs at his age.
If he can get his career back on track, Mason's got the tools to succeed at Spurs. Hopefully this year will see him get his shot on loan to a club that appreciates what he brings to the table, or at least takes part in Spurs' cup campaigns.