Former England captain Rio Ferdinand has explained why Mason Holgate’s incisive and intelligent passing “sets him apart” from the majority of his Premier League contemporaries, as he backed the 23-year-old to develop into an elite centre-back at Everton.
Holgate enjoyed an excellent 2019/20 campaign, producing a succession of accomplished performances and establishing himself as a key player under manager Carlo Ancelotti.
He started all but one of the Italian’s first 15 Premier League matches as Everton manager, before injury brought the defender’s season to a premature halt.
At the peak of his powers, five-time Premier League winner Ferdinand was widely regarded as one of the best ball-playing central defenders in world football.
And the BT Sport pundit says it is Holgate’s technical quality and ambition in possession which marks him out as a standout talent – highlighting the Yorkshireman’s ability to swiftly transform defence into attack.
“I’ve seen Mason plays passes that eliminate four or five people out of the game – that means the player he finds is facing the back three or four of the opposing team,” Ferdinand told evertonfc.com.
“Whether that pass is over 20 yards, 30 yards, 40 yards, it doesn’t matter.
“If you can create more opportunities like that for your attacking players, you’re going to get more chances to score goals.
“Most centre-backs might play a lot of passes simple to the full-back – you get it, and play it to the nearest player – but the top, elite ones, where I think Mason can go, are the ones who play passes that eliminate people out of the game.
“When someone says, ‘He’s a good centre-half, he’s comfortable on the ball’, that doesn’t quite cut it for me.
“But Mason is a defender who is good on the ball and who can play.
“He doesn’t just look to play the simple pass – he plays balls that can affect the game.”
Holgate’s effectiveness in possession was matched by his diligent defensive work throughout the 2019/20 season.
His impressive all-round performances saw him rewarded with a new five-year Everton contract, which he signed in March, and he was heavily tipped for first senior England call-up before the Premier League and international calendar was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ferdinand – who won 81 caps and featured in three England World Cup squads – believes Holgate’s blend of attributes can see him flourish at international level.
“We’ve got a few good, young centre-backs through,” he said.
“As well as the likes of Michael Keane and Harry Maguire – who have more experience – we’ve got Mason, Joe Gomez and Ben Godfrey.
“Those three, I believe, will be fighting it out for the centre-back spots in the coming years, along with the experience ones I mentioned.
“Mason defends well, which he is paid to do first, but there are other elements of his game which I believe are setting him apart.
“That what’s got him into a position where he’s signing a new contract for Everton and being touted for that England call-up."
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