Mason Holgate says a desire to master the defensive element of his game has underpinned his emergence as a key player for Everton.
Centre-back Holgate’s position in Carlo Ancleotti’s long-term plans was secured last month when he signed a new five-year contract keeping him at Goodison Park until at least June 2025.
Holgate has started 19 of Everton’s past 20 Premier League games after waiting until late October for his first start in the competition this term.
The 23-year-old came to Goodison from Barnsley in August 2015 trailing a reputation as a modern-day, ball-playing defender.
But Holgate insists he would draw more pleasure today from executing a tackle or interception than dropping a raking pass into the feet of his centre-forward.
“It never used to give me more satisfaction [accomplished defensive work] but since I started at Everton I have worked really hard on that side of my game,” Holgate told evertonfc.com.
“I always felt I had ability on the ball, it was the defensive side which I needed to improve.
“It is pleasing people are starting to notice that side of my game.
“I see myself as a ball-playing centre-half but with a lot of those types of players, it is easy to say, ‘He’s good on the ball but can’t defend.
“That followed me around in my early years.
“It is something I’ve worked really hard on, so people couldn’t level that at me.
“The first job is defending and you have to nail down that part of your game before you can play.
“I still have loads to learn, you learn from everything that happens on the pitch, and I can improve every part of my game.
“But things are coming together and I have developed as a defender and added more consistency to my game.”
Holgate won praise from Ancelotti for his focus and “serious” attitude following the Italian’s appointment as manager back in December.
The centre-back has started all-but-one of Ancelotti’s 12 games in charge – Holgate was rested for a Premier League meeting with Crystal Palace in February – and in some quarters was being talked about in relation to a potential England call.
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Holgate was nevertheless keen to temper speculation over international recognition before those conversations became moot following the coronavirus oubreak and football's resultant suspension.
But the Yorkshireman is comfortable shouldering increased responsibility at Everton as a more established player in the side – and someone whose first-team dressing room longevity is surpassed by only full-back pair Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman and Academy graduate midfielder Tom Davies.
“I don’t feel I’m seen as a young lad in the dressing room – and that’s not how I view myself,” said Holgate, who made his Everton deubt against Tottenham hotspur on the opening day of 2016/17.
“There’s only Sea [Coleman] and Bazza [Leighton Baines] and Tom been in the first team longer than me.
“If there’s something to be said, I will say it.
“I’ve never been shy of speaking up. I think if you asked the boys, they would say I get my point across.
“There’s probably more of an onus on me to do it now.
“I’ve been around the first team four years and it is down to me to get across to everyone what it means to play for Everton.”