The Monday Profile: Joe Mason
Unless some misguided King is willing to pay your club say, £35m for the inconvenience, then losing an upwardly mobile, home-grown striker would usually trigger outrage amongst supporters. Yet, when Plymouth Argyle flogged 20 year-old Joe Mason to Cardiff for a cut-price £150,000 last summer, there was hardly a murmur from Devonians worldwide.
That said a lot more about the severity of Argyle’s financial plight than Mason’s potential. Many had hoped that a new team would be built around the Mason family’s third attempt at producing a professional footballer — Joe’s older brothers Anthony and Dennis having failed to make the grade in years gone by — but even when a move to Swindon was given short shrift earlier in 2011, Pilgrims supporters knew to prepare for the worst.
However, while full of trickery and guile, Mason’s arrival in the Welsh capital perhaps came as something of a surprise. Accustomed to seeing the Bluebirds scrapping for a Championship play-off place, would our Mase — who’d only been used at intervals by managers Paul Mariner and Peter Reid — be up to the task at his new club? Having spent 18 months in a losing side who’d been paying little attention to player development, how would Mason fare in front of a less patient crowd with higher standards?
Nine months into his career with City, and it seems as though the doubters shouldn’t have worried. A GI-hairstyled Mason has settled in to his new life in South Wales well, recording a creditable haul of goals and assists, and his opener in February’s narrow League Cup Final defeat to Liverpool finally may have opened the wider football family’s eyes to his promise, at least in his adopted Ireland where Robbie Keane has touted Mason as the next big thing.
Keeping an ageing Robert Earnshaw out of the picture at club level, Mason’s managed more games than might have been expected of him in his debut season and has provided a useful foil to both Kenny Miller’s predatory instincts and Rudy Gestede’s height and presence. His team — having won only 2 of their last 13 league matches — may have lost its way but, whatever the outcome on April 28th, Mason should look back with satisfaction on a successful first year with the Bluebirds.
As he’s taking stock, however, the young Plymothian and his manager Malky Mackay would do well to consider which position best suits Mason and the team. Used by both Plymouth and Cardiff as an alternate striker, winger and attacking midfielder there’s an argument that Mason’s offensive versatility may end up counting against him if he doesn’t settle on a particular role, particularly at international level.
Given that his attributes number a lip-licking first touch, composure, strength in possession and vision rather than pace and power, the obvious suggestion would be to stick Mason in as a withdrawn striker between the midfield and the last line of attack. But, while on paper it may be easy to make such a demand, can the temptation to rotate Mason’s position be helped given the various styles and methods adopted by Cardiff’s opponents and the consequent need to keep flexible?
Whatever the case, the Cardiff City Stadium appears to be a good place for Mason at this stage of his development. While at Plymouth he was thrown in to the squad towards the end of the first of two successive relegation seasons and had to contend with an ever-changing set of teammates throughout his days in first-team, one hopes that he will enjoy a more settled couple of years under Malky Mackay, who’s proving to be a far more popular manager than his predecessor Dave Jones. Adept with handling the local media and more sensitive to what Bluebirds supporters need to hear from their manager, the Scot has enjoyed a promising first year in charge. Yet, with the club still deep financial trouble after years of overspending and neighbours Swansea putting the pressure on through their impressive Premiership campaign, there’s still potential for self-inflicted implosion. One senses, though, that Mason himself is destined for good things and even at 20 years old he’s already proving himself to be Plymouth’s greatest export since Trevor Francis.