Mauricio Pochettino reveals why he had to visit ex-Tottenham talent Ryan Mason in hospital
Ryan Mason will always be a special player and a special person to Mauricio Pochettino. It was Mason who Pochettino anchored his midfield around in his first season at White Hart Lane. It was Mason who turned the crucial Capital One Cup game against Nottingham.
Forest when nothing seemed to be going right for the new manager. So when Mason left for Hull City last summer it was, in Pochettino’s own words, “very difficult”. But, in the manager’s own words, “the love will always be there”.
That is the background for Pochettino going to see Mason at St Mary’s Hospital in west London on Thursday afternoon, along with his assistant Jesus Perez and Tottenham academy manager John McDermott. Pochettino and his staff would have gone sooner but for the fact that they were in Barcelona training from Sunday, when the injury happened, until late on Wednesday night.
So Pochettino, Perez and McDermott drove down from Spurs’ training base in Enfield to the hospital in Paddington, after Pochettino’s press conference on Thursday afternoon. “For me he is a very special player, a very special person,” Pochettino said just before leaving. “For my presence here today, he deserves a lot of credit, because he helped us a lot. For that he is a special player, and will always be special.”
It all goes back to the summer of 2014 when Pochettino arrived at Spurs from Southampton and was looking for a new generation of talented young English players at Tottenham to bring through. 23-year-old Mason had always been highly rated but had struggled with injuries and unsatisfactory loan deals. But Pochettino saw something in him he could work with.
“When we arrived at Tottenham, we saw he was a player with big talents but with a bit of bad luck in his career,” Pochettino remembered. “In that moment it was a challenge to try to provide him the tools to be a first-team player. I think we were right to believe and trust in him.”
One month into the season Spurs were struggling, without a win in four, having lost consecutive home league games to Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion. They were hosting Nottingham Forest in the Capital One Cup and were 1-0 down. So Pochettino threw on Mason and Harry Kane, neither regular first-teamers, for Paulinho and Benjamin Stambouli, two older players Pochettino was never truly sold on.
With his first real action, Mason curled one into the top corner from 30 yards. Then a back-heel started the move that put Spurs ahead, before Kane scored the third at the end. It was a crucial contribution, securing Mason’s place in Pochettino’s plans. It owed almost entirely to Mason impressing McDermott for the Under-21s two days before.
“I remember he had played at Sunderland for the Under-21s on Monday, very, very late,” Pochettino remembered. “I called McDermott who said Ryan was fantastic for 90 minutes, he fought, showed character on a very difficult pitch, it was very cold and not good conditions to play. So I said to Ryan, ‘tomorrow you train with us’. After training, he was in the squad and on the bench for the Nottingham Forest game.”
“That was a difficult game and I turned to Jesus and said ‘tell Ryan to get ready.’ And with his first touch of the ball he scored an unbelievable goal. It started to change his time here, it was fantastic.”
Mason did so well that game that he started at Arsenal three days later, his first ever Premier League start. He finished the season with 29 league starts, a remarkable record that no-one would have predicted back in August.
Another moment that stands out for Pochettino was the trip to Villa Park on 2 November 2014. Spurs were 1-0 down and struggling. Mason engineered a confrontation with Christian Benteke, which led to the Villa man being sent off. Spurs scored two late goals and won 2-1.
“True, it was a little bit naughty in the Aston Villa game,” Pochettino remembered, “but remember his contribution in the game, as we were in a very difficult position. He deserves a lot of credit as he helped us and the team. It is for that that he will always be a special player for me.”
Mason took a special place in the heart of Pochettino, his staff, and family. So it was difficult when he was sold last summer. “I cannot lie, he is special,” Pochettino said. “When he took the decision to move to Hull, it was a very tough moment for me. It was very difficult but you know, that is football. We have split now, but the love will always be there. You can split physically, but the emotion you keep inside always.”
It was even harder for Pochettino, his staff and the Spurs squad, watching Chelsea v Hull in Barcelona on Sunday, to see what happened to their former team-mate when he collided with Gary Cahill. “We have kept in touch with his family, his fiancee and it was a difficult moment,” Pochettino said. “We were very worried about what happened. Like all of the people that know him, it was hard and was difficult to see.” The rest of the Spurs squad sent Mason a video message.
Pochettino also revealed that Spurs are expecting Erik Lamela to return to the club on Friday after spending most of January in Rome working to recover from a hip injury. Lamela has not played for Spurs for three months following a combination of injuries and personal problems.
“The moment he arrives we will assess him,” Pochettino said. “The last scan in Roma showed there was no issue, there is still pain in his hip joint but now it is important to meet us and stay here with the group and push him to keep his fitness and achieve the level of the team and be available as soon as possible.”