Mason Mount is another player who has carefully put his case forward over the course of these three games. It will certainly not be a universally popular point of view. For whatever reason, Mount has always seemed to attract a level of contempt out of all proportion to anything he does on the pitch. On social media, Southgate’s affinity for Mount – who has featured in 10 of England’s last 11 games – has become something of a running joke. And one way or another, Mount has always worked under that cloud of sideways suspicion: the player whose face just matches up a bit. also well.
Part of Mount’s problem, in your opinion, is the lack of history. There has been a certain frictionless nature to his rise as a youth, from top academy in Frank Lampard’s Derby to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and Gareth Southgate’s England: a feeling of smooth paths, obstacles overcome. The parallel rise of Jack Grealish, one of Mount’s main rivals for a starting place, only sharpened the caricature. Grealish v Mount is one of those duels that seems to represent something more basic: authenticity versus privilege, sea urchin chic versus academy polish, people’s champion versus pet of the teacher, the Big Six against the last 14.
It’s a dichotomy that does a disservice both: paint Grealish as a crude, unruly maverick and Mount as a soft beige factotum, Grealish as the man you want on the ball and Mount as the man. that you want without it. In fact, their differences are smaller than many imagine. You can certainly see why managers love Mount Out of Possession work. He’s got a formidable engine, is energetic and alert in the press, reads the game well. His runs in the channels, playing both full-back and center-back like cups, are deceptively smart.
Still, focusing on Mount’s hustle and bustle risks underestimating his technical quality.
At the start of the game he produced a delicious turn to beat Thomas Delaney near the flag in the right corner. Its deliverance from the right was often dangerous. Together with Chelsea teammate Reece James and childhood friend Declan Rice, he formed a menacing triangle on the right flank, in stark contrast to England’s dysfunctional left. He was at the heart of much of what England did well.
Maguire’s dismissal, throwing himself into a desperate tackle as if it were a Mykonos waterslide, caused a sudden readjustment. As England resumed their way into the game, as James was forced to play a more defensive role, Mount dutifully moved to the right of a 4-2-3, a gap breaker as much as a seeker. gap, and gradually the promise of that vibrant first half hour faded away.
He still had his moments. With 25 minutes remaining, there was a glorious chance to equalize with a header from a corner. But overall, his second half was about running and hunting, scrapping and scratching. Mount left the field in the 74th minute as an emblem of England’s performance as a whole: inspired when they were, moderate when they were too, thus leaving unanswered the question of whether he is a player who shapes the games or simply reflects them.
It’s a question that continues to define Southgate’s England, a team stuck between the rock of ambition and the hard place of tournament pragmatism. Grealish is the man of the team England aspire to be; Mount is the man on the team they have now. He runs and runs, he does his job, he participates with goals and assists, and yet the populist appeal of a Grealish will always be beyond him. It’s not his fault, of course. But in this feverish new normal, in a country that calls for folk heroes, it’s something he’s going to have to get used to.