"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."- Mason Mount
Not since John Terry in 1998 had somebody risen through the ranks at Chelsea to make a considerable impact on the first team, and the message that sent was clear: unless you're going to be one of the best players in Premier League history, you're probably wasting your time at Stamford Bridge.
Then Mason Mount came along.
Having joined Chelsea as a six-year-old, it quickly became clear that this kid was something special. He rose through the ranks at electric pace and was handed his debut for the Under-18s when he was still in the Under-15 setup.
His progress soon caught the eye of teams from across Europe. Then 15, he had suitors lining up for him, and father Tony admitted to The Sun that he urged his son to leave Stamford Bridge because of their abysmal track record.
Mount's refusal to walk away from the club he considered his own was perhaps the bravest decision imaginable, and in 2021, he is now reaping the rewards. He's a Champions League finalist and arguably the best player on his team already, and there's still so much of his career left.
The hype around Mount reached a new level in 2016/17, when he was named as captain of the team's Under-18 side. He led his team to a fourth straight FA Youth Cup and then followed that up with the match-winning assist at the European Under-19 Championships that summer. It was clear he was ready for senior football.
Perhaps surprisingly, instead of being sent to the Championship, Mount took his talents to Dutch side Vitesse, where things proved to be fairly difficult. The skinny teenager was kept on the fringes of Henk Fraser's side for the first few months, and it looked like Mount was about to fall into the pit which swallowed up most Chelsea starlets.
"Initially I did not call him, because I was looking at the physical side and he really still had to take steps," Fraser told De Telegraaf. "I didn’t have to wait for weeks.
"It may be a strange comparison, but Mason is very similar to Johan Cruyff. He is wiry, fluid and so fast on the ball and in his head that he never actually enters duels."
From the comparisons to Cruyff, you can see just how well Mount turned things around. He ended the season with 13 goals and ten assists, landing Vitesse's Player of the Season award and earning himself another loan with Frank Lampard's Derby County in 2018/19.
As a goalscoring, English midfielder for Chelsea, the idea of pairing Mount up with Lampard was the stuff of dreams. Lampard saw Mount's potential early on and was more than happy to teach him the ropes.
"He can be really good, he can be top, top level because he's 19 and plays with ability and quality, technically he's brilliant but also his work-rate shouldn't go unnoticed," Lampard said (via Sky Sports News) soon after his arrival - a message he would echo for the next two years.
Mount netted on his Championship debut - a 2-1 win over Reading - and went from strength to strength under Lampard. The pair seemed inseparable, so when the boss was handed the keys to Stamford Bridge in 2019, it came as no surprise to see Mount handed a spot in the team too.
Life in the big leagues didn't always go smoothly for Mount, whose poor performances and continued role in the team saw him labelled 'Lampard's Son' by some disgruntled fans, but neither cared. Mount promised he would make it and Lampard believed him.
Seven goals and six assists in his debut season, and the England call-up that came with that form, were the perfect rewards for Mount's brilliance, which was slowly getting recognised by more and more fans.
As the 2020/21 season began to fall off the rails, Mount's importance to Chelsea only became more evident. He looked like the only player who was truly giving his all, and his reward was the captain's armband in Lampard's final match in charge - the 3-1 win over Luton in the FA Cup fourth round.
Lampard's replacement, Thomas Tuchel, took a week or so to get to grips with Mount, but quickly made him the focal point of his team. The boss realised that Mount's relentless energy and determination were far too valuable to leave on the bench, and it became apparent why Lampard had been so set on playing him.
“He is a very good player but I was saying this is in the autumn,” said England manager Gareth Southgate. “Now Thomas Tuchel picks him, everyone will probably agree. But when it was Frank, it didn’t count for some reason."
Fortunately for Mount, it's counting now. He's the most important player on his boyhood team, and he's scoring goals to fire them to FA Cup and Champions League finals. It really is the stuff of dreams, and a story which serves as inspiration to the talented youngsters learning their trade at Cobham.