MASON MOUNT’S determination to become a Chelsea star is shown through a tale that brings a smile to his father's face.
It was 2014 and Mount, one of the most sought after 15-year-olds in the country, had to choose between a scholarship with the Blues and a raft of tempting offers to leave.
Uncles, aunts and grandparents offered advice to the talented teenager after dad Tony called a family meeting at their Portsmouth home.
“I told Mason I thought he needed to move on to get the best opportunity,” Tony told SunSport.
“I said, ‘No one at Chelsea’s academy has got into the first-team since John Terry — what chance have you got?’
“Mason shot back, ‘I’ll be the next one.’ He said, ‘I’m not leaving Chelsea, it’s my club. I’ve been here since the age of six and I’m going all the way.’”
Five years on and Mason — so named by his mum as it means ‘man of stone’ — is on the verge of fulfilling that promise, having thrust himself into contention to start at Manchester United in the season opener on Sunday.
I’m not leaving Chelsea, it’s my club. I’ve been here since the age of six and I’m going all the way.
His dad’s fingers are crossed after a pre-season in which Mason scored three goals and, in the words of new boss Frank Lampard, “announced himself to the first-team squad”.
Sat in the garden of his Waterlooville home, Tony flicks through photographs on his iPhone which highlight his son’s rise.
The snaps show him signing for Chelsea aged eight, bonding with best mate Declan Rice, representing England Under-21s and winning the 2018 player of the year at Vitesse Arnhem in Holland while on loan.
But a photograph of a two-year-old Mason in the arms of his dad, who was a non-League manager in 2001, shows where his footballing education began.
Tony, then boss of Havant Town, said: “I’m old-school and Mason has sat in dressing rooms with me kicking cups and doors while we’re 3-0 down at Kettering, and the language has been blue.”
In 2004, Tony took a five-year old Mason to a club in Farnham for his first experience of playing on grass.
“They started age six and Mason was five,” the father-of-four said. “I took him over there and they said, ‘He’s a bit small. Is he six?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’
“Within two sessions he was playing with the Under-8s and dribbling round all of them.”
Chelsea quickly spotted his talent. Mason was training with the Blues as well as the club his family raised him to support, Portsmouth.
SAINT TO WINNER
So when a friend invited them to rivals Southampton, so coaches could assess their trialists against a Chelsea player, the future starlet was hesitant.
Tony said: “We were driving there and Mase said, ‘I won’t have to wear that shirt will I?!’ It’s embedded in him. I said he’d just have a bib on.
“They split the boys into four teams and took them away to get changed. The first team came out wearing black, another in blue and then another in yellow.
“I’m looking for Mason and thinking, ‘Please don’t come out in red and white! PLEASE don’t come out in red and white!’ And he’s come out in this red and white kit with a face like thunder.
“He’s going ‘Dad! Dad!’ and pointing at the shirt. He played like a man possessed that night because he was so unhappy about this kit. He scored 14 goals.”
Despite attempts by Saints and and Pompey to sign Mount, it was too late. He’d fallen in love with Chelsea.
He signed with the Blues aged eight and met fellow midfielder Rice at their Cobham academy. The duo quickly became inseparable.
Tony, 62, now a partner in an electronics manufacturer, said: “When Declan got released aged 14, we were all devastated. [Mason's mum] Debbie was in tears and Mason was gobsmacked.
“One minute you’re there and had been with Declan since the age of seven, travelling across Europe with the family and holidaying together, and all of a sudden he’s gone.
“Declan is very strong mentally and got what he deserved at West Ham.”
It was at the academy that Mason first met Jody Morris, Lampard’s assistant at Derby and now Chelsea.
Former midfielder Morris was manager of the youth team when Mason stepped up. He thrived off Morris’ old-school approach and was appointed captain.
Tony said: “I asked Mason about Jody and he said, ‘Dad, he’s very good. He’s a tough taskmaster, I love him and if I do something well he wants me to do it better.’”
So when Morris called last summer to say Lampard wanted to meet, he jumped at the invite.
Both father and son travelled up to a London hotel and listened to Lampard’s pitch about going to Derby.
“Talk about inspired! I wanted to play for Frank after that,” Tony said, laughing.
“Frank was brilliant, explaining what he could give Mason. He knew him inside-out, was talking about games he’d watched Mason play.
“We spoke to Steven Gerrard about going to Rangers, too, and he was similar: ‘I’ve watched Mason, know him and want him to come on a journey with me.’
“Frank said the same: ‘Come with me and be my player, you’ve got everything I love.’
“I said to Mason, ‘Don’t rush into it, we’ve got to think about it. I like Werder Bremen, and Norwich was a good meeting.’ He said, ‘No, Dad. I’m going to Derby. I want to work for Frank Lampard.’”
Mount scored nine goals and got four assists at Pride Park last season where he formed a strong bond with the Chelsea legend.
With Lampard now holding the reins at Stamford Bridge, Mason's hopes of succeeding Terry look possible.
Tony added: “I don’t think that opportunity has been there before — and history tells you that — but it could be totally different with the new management team.
“The expectation is that an opportunity will be given to Mason, and pre-season shows that could happen.”
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