Mason Holgate is adamant his “best years are to come” – and the defender is aiming for a pivotal role in Everton’s evolution under the galvanising management of Frank Lampard.
Englishman Holgate was a fixture for Lampard in the final months of the Premier League campaign following two years that – in his words – “were not what I wanted”.
Holgate’s slip from prominence was largely out of the player’s hands. Injury stymied him towards the end of 2019/20 – not long after Holgate signed a new five-year contract to tie him to Goodison Park until at least June 2025 – and those issues spilled over into the following campaign.
He revealed back in March that Lampard’s show of faith in consistently selecting Holgate felt like “a breath of fresh air”, releasing the centre-half to play unencumbered by the concern that one lapse could result in an exile from the team.
The 25-year-old started all but two of Lampard’s 18 Premier League matches, resisting the strain of a relegation fight to perform admirably in defence.
Holgate set up fellow defender Michael Keane for the goal that got the ball rolling on Everton’s decisive comeback victory over Crystal Palace, too.
Of the 11 Everton starters on that chaotic night, only captain Seamus Coleman and Anthony Gordon, the Academy Graduate forward, have been at the Club longer than Holgate’s seven years.
“I have the best years to come and am looking forward to them,” said Holgate.
“I believe I can bring a lot to this club.
“I view myself as one of the leaders in the changing room, I am vocal and have been here a long time.
“So, 100 per cent, I see my future here, because I believe I am good enough to go on and help move the Club forwards to where it wants to be.
“People think because I’ve been around a long time, I am in my prime, but that is not the case.
“I am not there yet.
“Centre-backs often reach their prime at 29 or 30.
“I am still young for my position. I will continue learning and improving and trying to be the best player possible.
“Then when I reach those ages, with more experience under my belt, I will be at my peak.”
The opportunity for regular action enabled Holgate to revisit the levels he reached prior to agreeing that new deal in February 2020.
He was increasingly assured and assertive in the season’s closing weeks, reserving some of his best football for matches when the stakes really could not have been higher.
Playing against Chelsea 24 hours after Everton slipped five points behind Burnley in 17th, for example, Holgate was outstanding in his team’s 1-0 victory.
The ability to withstand pressure, to enjoy responsibility, is one of the Yorkshireman’s greatest assets.
He thinks a lot about his profession, too, and a spiky on-field countenance belies a reflective personality.
The natural bedfellow for that self-scrutiny is the honesty with which Holgate evaluates his own progress.
“It is no secret it has not been the two years I wanted,” he says.
“But there is nothing I can do to change that… and I feel ready to kick on.
“Nothing is ever a straight line – however much you want it to be – and I understand there will be ups and downs.
“It is part of football that things sometimes go well and at others they don’t.
"It is all about opinions and I don’t let it get to me to a level where it gets on top of me.”
The capacity to manage his emotions, to cling to his deep-seated self-belief and channel any disappointments into renewed objectives, means Holgate rarely searches for an outlet to vocalise his feelings.
Unless asked, of course. Then he is perfectly happy to expand on the target of sustaining his excellent form of the past few months over a prolonged spell.
“I don’t overly look for someone to speak to and I don’t deliberately internalise things,” continued Holgate.
“I will talk to anybody if I think they can help me.
“Seamus could see it was difficult for me at the start of the season, he kept speaking to me and kept me going.
“I always believe that if I keep working hard, something will go in my favour down the line.
“I am close to where I was before signing the new deal and that comes with consistently playing in one position [centre-half].
“Whenever I’ve had that opportunity, I’ve shown what I can do. But it was only that one season [2019/20] I had the chance to do it over a long period.
“I have no doubts whatsoever I can keep performing at a high standard now.”