This is the seventh installment in a series of Tottenham Hotspur player profiles. The articles are aimed at fans who are either new to Spurs or new to the game. You can find my other work in the fanposts section of the Cartilage Free Captain blog. Read, comment, compliment, ridicule, enjoy.
Player: Ryan Mason
Position: Center Midfielder
Strengths: The optic force blast of Marvel Comic character Cyclops is powerful, devastating, and without proper training, impossible to control. Cyclop’s mutant ability is a metaphor for how Ryan Mason plays football. A product of Tottenham’s youth academy, Mason burst onto the scene against Nottingham Forrest on September 24th, 2014. What Mason brought to the team that day is what he brings to the squad when he is at his best; a driving, energetic, and direct performer. In Pochettino’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation, Mason plays as one of the two central midfielders or pivots. While these two pivots often interchange responsibilities throughout a match, it is typical that one tends to push higher up the field than the other. Mason is well suited for the more offensive role in this midfield combo. He is tireless in his movement, at the end of ninety minutes it is likely that his boots stomped every blade of grass on the pitch. He is also one of the few players in the squad who is absolutely wired to go forward. Whether it is an immediate touch towards the opposition, a darting pass through a seam, or an exasperating vertical run with the ball at his feet, Mason is always applying pressure to the defense. Further, Mason’s drive is inimitable for Pochettino’s press. His ebullient strides allow him to harass his counterparts and force them into either a loss of possession or a hurried downfield pass to a teammate who is numbers down. Likewise, Mason sees his fair share of interceptions which are vital to transitional attacking play. Finally, Mason is annoying as hell to play against. Like mosquitos on a July night, he doesn’t leave his opponents alone and gets stuck in often.
Weaknesses: Scott Summers’ red laser beam eyes are agnostic to what they destroy; sentinels and commercial buildings alike fall to their gaze. Similarly, the qualities that make Ryan Mason effective, also make him a liability. Almost everything Mason does looks rushed and neurotic. Take for example a simple twenty yard square pass that switches the field of play. The majority of professional footballers will turn with grace and fluidity, their well struck ball never leaving the carpet. Mason flails when he turns and the ball is off his foot before the television camera can even capture the moment. His pass driven, desperate, and one hopping off the turf; it never seems like he makes it easy for a teammate to receive the ball. His forward passes are equally as hard, both in their pace and ambition. Mason is aggressive in trying to spring attackers up the field and depending on how one views the situation, he is either craftily attempting to thread the needle or mindlessly losing possession through a forced pass. Consequently, his runs up the pitch also have their drawbacks. While his combative sprints can challenge defenses, they also pull him out of position. Mason leaves the backline naked and dictates that the other part to the central midfield combination be overly conservative to compensate for his wild gesticulations. Every single one of the critiques outlined above have a silver lining to them. Quick passes move the opposition, enterprising through balls unlock defenses, dynamic runs through the middle are dangerous, yet the reason they are characterized as weaknesses is because Ryan Mason fails in his end product. He can strike a ball cleanly but doesn’t find the target, his well intentioned passes don’t become killer balls, and he exhibits little composure in front of goal. Like Cyclops, there is a lot of potential in Mason’s ability. The question for both the superhero and the Tottenham Hotspur player is whether or not they can succeed in corralling all that energy.
History at Spurs: Ryan Mason is a player that supporters should root for. Joining the Spurs Academy in 2007, it took Mason seven years to fully break into Tottenham’s first team. The young man had an arduous path to White Hart Lane as he was loaned to Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall, French Ligue 1 outfit, Lorient, and Swindon Town before his chance with the first team. He was also a mainstay in Spurs successful 2012-13 Under-21 side. While Mason had cameos in cup competitions throughout his early Spurs career, his real chance came when Mauricio Pochettino took over the side. He played in thirty-one of thirty-eight Premier League matches, and while his performances tailed off towards the end of the year, he was a breath of fresh air throughout the season’s first half.
Role on the Team: Ryan Mason is a true center midfielder. Whether you want to call him a box to box midfielder, an offensive minded central midfielder, or the attacking half of a double pivot; Mason will ply his trade in the center of the park. At the moment, the queue to fill one of the two center midfielder spots in a 4-2-3-1 is quite long. Mason will be battling with Nabil Bentaleb, Eric Dier, Delle Alli, Mousa Dembélé, Tom Carroll, and a probable midfield signing, for minutes. Though he missed a portion of preseason due to injury, Mason has returned to the team, won two starts, and performed well against Stoke and Leicester City. Mason will push to make the attacking role in the double pivot his own for the second straight year. While not guaranteed, his place in the first team and eighteen man roster is.
Prediction: The potential outcome of Ryan Mason’ 2015/16 season can run the gamut of possibility. I don’t think it would be shocking to review Tottenham’s season in May and discuss how Ryan Mason was a supernova in our first eleven, or a player who was relegated to the fringes of the first team. Mason faces two core dilemmas for playing time this year. The first is that he is only suited for one position on the field. It was evident last year that the Mason-Bentaleb pairing was not optimal. Mason does not give enough defensive cover and Nabil Bentaleb is not a true defensive midfielder. As such, Pochettino has experimented with Eric Dier, starting him in the first three games of this season, at the defensive midfield spot. Further, it is likely that Spurs will sign a quality defensive midfielder by September first. This means that Mason has only one spot on the pitch where he will be considered. The second dilemma that Mason faces is stiff competition from talented teammates. Bentaleb signed a hefty new contract with the club this summer and will now be vying for the same spot as him, Delle Ali has been a wunderkind and deserves minutes, and Mousa Dembélé, a player who Spurs want on the field, has proved that he can play in that role as well. The only answer that Mason can have to these challenges is to be the best. He has an edge over the others in that he is currently starting in his preferred position and he filled the role last term. He knows exactly what Pochettino wants from him. He brings an energy that his contemporaries don’t and for this he will get minutes. Mason has a small window to stave off competition, score goals, and tally assists. If he adds this polish to his game, he will be hard to dislodge.