Mason Mount is Manchester United’s newest No.7 (no pressure there, kid!), and while that makes him entirely not our player ... or our problem ... or our panacea ... anymore, it is perhaps worth taking one last look at how in the world we got to this point, which still seems like the least likely outcome of a long-running contract stand-off at the end of a lengthy “association” with Chelsea. (The use of “association” by Chelsea’s social media only a small step above Michael Emenalo referring to Mourinho as “the individual” during our palpable discord disco days.)
The Athletic have a couple rundowns that may be worth a read, one from the United-beat perspective and one from the Chelsea one, but there’s isn’t really anything revelatory in either. And I’m not sure we will arrive at a clean reason either, or even a satisfactory one. It’s a messy situation, as real life often tends to be, and we can blame owners (current or previous), coaches, advisors, or the player himself. There’s enough blame to go around that pointing a finger at any one individual or entity can be valid, but also wholly inaccurate as well.
"It became clear that I wasn't in Chelsea's plans." ❌— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 6, 2023
Mason Mount at Carrington to talk through his move to Man Utd... pic.twitter.com/ZPDbDD0Vlu
Mount’s contract was brought up as early as the start of the 2021-22 season, assigned a lower priority at the time than Antonio Rüdiger’s, Andreas Christensen’s, N’Golo Kanté’s, or Jorginho’s. Notice a pattern? The first two would leave at the end of that season, the other two during the last six months. Only Jorginho would fetch a transfer fee. While not considered even a remote possibility at the time, we would eventually make very sure that Mount would not walk for free.
By November of that season, Reece James was added to the contract priority list, with talks expected to begin at the end of that season (i.e. summer 2022). But either way there “no need to panic”, said the Telegraph’s Matt Law in November 2021, and that indeed turned out to be the case with James, who would sign a new long-term deal at the start of last season, committing to 2028.
Intentions to sit down with Mount made the rumor rounds again in February 2022, but were understandably then put on the back-burner as Chelsea were hit with sanctions and underwent a forced-sale due to Roman Abramovich’s associations with Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine with Russia in March of that year.
With the new owners in place by July, Mount’s contract was among their very first high priority agenda items.
Chelsea finally sat down with Mount in October of last year, now inside the two-year expiration window, but progress was surprisingly slow. In fact, just before the World Cup break, the reports of a “stalemate” started filtering around, with the club-sourced stories quickly countering and claiming that a “breakthrough” has been made.
As it turns out, as per the Athletic’s reports, this breakthrough was a “verbal offer” and “verbal agreement” (so basically non-binding?) over some key parts of a new deal — essentially the same to what James had agreed a couple months prior — that were expected to lay the foundation of the contract to be signed in January, after the World Cup.
January however brought more changes at Chelsea, including a power shift behind the scenes as the owners dialed back their involvement in day-to-day operations and planning, and the new sporting directors took over instead. Also shifting was the optimism about the contract, with talks put on hold until the summer after not making the expected step up.
What has emerged more recently is that Chelsea apparently withdrew the offer from November and replaced it with worse offer (same wages but only one-year extension, with a £70m release clause). It’s unclear what prompted this decision (tired of waiting for Mount? changed our minds about him?). This was meant to buy us some time either way, but Mount took it personally. You can see and understand both sides, and if you take the emotion out of it, it’s a reasonable response from both sides as well. Of course, you can’t really take the emotion out of it, not in this case.
As per the newest reports, Chelsea had essentially already accepted it as fact at this point that Mount would leave, though Todd Boehly did try to sit down with him at least one more time to change his mind. Evidently, it was too little, too late, and the next time Boehly would sit down with a Mount, it would be with Mason’s father, Tony, to smooth out and help get the deal to Manchester United over the line. Chelsea had drawn a line in the sand at £70m, but after that chat, we would settle for £55+5m.
It’s tough to draw definitive conclusions from a two-year saga that had involved so many moving pieces and characters.
But either side could’ve done a bit better, I suppose, could’ve shown a bit more willingness — if we truly wanted to make this work. Things have not been ideal at Chelsea for some time, that’s for sure (certainly in terms of the football over the past twelve months, but also in terms of organization, leadership, decision-making behind the scenes). Didn’t prevent others from signing new deals or new extensions.
The total compensation that Mount’s getting from United is reportedly in the same ballpark as was our November offer, which was rescinded a couple months later. The United-beat makes it very clear that Mount didn’t sign for money, and that he really wanted to join Manchester United. When he actually decided that, or what prompted that decision is left open to interpretation.
So yeah, no clear answers. Hope you weren’t expecting any.
What is clear is that Mount’s exit is momentous one, even if you don’t think he was an important cog on the pitch for us. The specific goodbye messages from the likes of Reece James and Ben Chilwell underline his importance, his standing, his stature at Chelsea ... or at least that he used to have at Chelsea. (And are more meaningful than Mount’s own awkward goodbye video.) Those voids will have to be filled by others.
As new head coach Mauricio Pochettino said in his introductory interview, we need leaders, we need “animals”, we need players who want to be here, who want to restore the luster of the shirt, who want to be part of our new family.
Mason’s a red. One of us no more ... even if he will “always be blue at heart” (or so claims Reecey).