Mason Holgate began the 2016/17 season having never played a competitive match in Everton’s first team.
He finished the campaign with 21 appearances to his name and a place in England’s squad for the Under-21s European Championships.
It was a year of tangible progress for the defender, whose talents were immediately identified by Ronald Koeman when he was appointed as Everton manager.
Holgate arrived at Everton in August 2015 from hometown club Barnsley. He had played almost two dozen games in the Tykes’ first team but his maiden season season with the Blues was spent honing his talents with David Unsworth’s Under-23s.
Koeman promoted Holgate to the senior squad and the young Yorkshireman was heavily involved in the Blues’ pre-season which took in trips to Austria and Dresden.
However, it was at Old Trafford in Wayne Rooney’s testimonial where Holgate showed he was he ready to make the first-team step, performing admirably against Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
An untimely ankle injury to Seamus Coleman presented Holgate with a Premier League debut in the season opener against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison - and he was to play four straight matches before the Republic of Ireland defender was back fit and available.
Still, Koeman had been suitably impressed with how Holgate had taken his chance. “I'm very pleased with the young boy - he looks like he's already played two seasons for Everton,” said the boss, issuing rich praise following the 2-1 comeback win at West Bromwich in August.
Holgate was to play fleetingly up until March but showed his versatility and promise on the occasions Koeman decided to change tactics and play three at the back. This switch in formation reaped some excellent rewards, notably in January when Everton thrashed Manchester City 4-0 and Crystal Palace 1-0.
One of the biggest compliments to be handed to Holgate came from experienced campaigner, Ashley Williams. The Wales captain had adopted a mentor-type role to the young defender and in February stated that his teammate had the potential to play for England “for years to come” before adding that he has “unbelievable talent and is the real deal”.
Koeman was keen to lock down Holgate’s future and mid-season saw the announcement of a new long-term contract for the England youth international.
"My confidence has grown as I’ve spent more time with the first team,” said Holgate with the ink still drying on his five-year deal. “I feel settled now and a proper part of the group.”
Coleman’s broken leg, suffered in March, meant that Holgate got a regular run of games at right-back in the closing stages of the season. He played the final nine fixtures and showed form which, only yesterday, saw him get the call from England coach Aidy Boothroyd for this summer’s Under-21 European Championships in Poland.
“If someone had offered me all this at the start of the season, I’d have snapped their hands off,” said the 20-year-old. “I’ve featured a lot but I’m looking to build on that now.
“I’ve been playing two different positions. The right side of three centre-backs and right-back.
“Right-back is not somewhere I’ve played all my life, so I’ve been trying to get used to positionings. That’s what I’m trying to improve on. It’s tough at first [being asked to get up and down] but once you get into your stride, it’s easier. I did play there quite a lot when I broke into the side at Barnsley, so it’s not necessarily a position I’ve never played before.
“My next aim is to build on it because this, literally, is only just the start.”