Ryan Mason’s emergence for Tottenham Hotspur this season has been an unexpected coup for new manager Mauricio Pochettino but, for the likes of fellow midfielder Paulinho, it’s also meant limited first-team opportunities.
Mason, 23, made his Tottenham debut as a late substitute in a UEFA Cup clash with NEC Nijmegen in November 2008 aged just 17, but would have to wait until September 2014 to make his first league appearance for the club, taking in five separate loan spells in the interim.
Earning his Premier League bow in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal after coming on to score a stunning equaliser in the prior 3-1 Capital One Cup win over Nottingham Forest, the former trainee has since gone on to establish himself as a regular in the line-up, receiving widespread praise from his 18 appearances.
Penning a new deal until 2020 last month, it’s been an astonishing rise for the now-England hopeful, and one which has developed alongside a growing plight for counterpart Paulinho.
The Brazilian built a reputation as one of the leading stars in South American football with Corinthians between 2011 and 2013, helping his side win the Brasileirao championship in 2011 and Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup titles in 2012, before a £17 million move to White Hart Lane.
Arriving to high expectations and Frank Lampard comparisons, he has since struggled to live up to his price tag, however, and drawn ongoing criticism from fans and the media alike for his mediocre showings.
Amid Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and summer signing Benjamin Stambouli all impressing this season, the 32-times capped international has been restricted to just one start in 11 league games, with the Europa League proving his lone source of regular minutes.
An anticipated departure failed to materialise in the transfer window but, with the stats highlighting how much of an upgrade Mason has proved in seizing his role in the first-choice XI, one can’t imagine him sticking around north London past the summer.
|Position||Team||Season||Goals||Assists||Key Passes GAME||Passing Accuracy||Tackles GAME||Duels Won GAME||Duel Success||Dispossessed GAME||Appearances||Mins Played|
While Paulinho at least has goals going for him, and just edges the contest when it comes to pass completion rate, Mason trumps him in all the other categories, and is sure to add to his two assists over the rest of the season.
In Pochettino's high-pressing game, the Enfield-native's work-rate, aggression and composure on the ball make him the perfect package to marshal the centre of the pitch, with his boss praising his impact on several occasions in recent months.
"He's strong - and more than he believes," the Argentine told Sky Sports in December. "We show him that he has improved his physical condition from the beginning of the season.
"Yes, we need to be careful but it's the same for all young players. He is a 23-year-old, but that is still young for the Premier League. It's his first season.
"I think that is a merit from the club and the staff because the first thing is you believe in the player."
It's doubtful that Mason would have envisaged himself pushing a World Cup starter out of the club before the start of the season, but he's now proving a central figure in the club's bid for a Champions League spot, despite fierce competition for places.
While it's no surprise that Harry Kane has received most of the headlines and England shouts for his goalscoring exploits, his teammate could well be joining him in receiving international recognition in the near future if he keeps up his current form.