One man’s misfortune is another’s man’s gain, they say. For Everton defender Mason Holgate, that couldn’t be truer.
Holgate had just returned from a six-month loan spell at Championship side West Bromwich Albion. The feeling was the England Under-21 defender was expendable with Everton attempting to sign another central defender.
But a deal for Kurt Zouma never got off the ground while talk of a move for Chelsea team-mate Fikayo Tomori was equally fanciful. This was his first stroke of luck.
The prior Barnsley prospect had a point to prove, not least because he had spent his time at The Hawthorns playing at right-back, also has grabbed his chance with both hands.
Holgate did not make a Premier League beginning until October 26, deputising for the injured Mina in a 3-2 loss at Brighton & Hove Albion. It may not have felt like it at the time but that gut-wrenching defeat was Holgate’s next lucky break. He kept his place and began the Toffees’ next five in all contests.
His recovery to the side failed to provide the upturn in results Silva so desperately desired and the Portuguese was sacked after a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of Merseyside rivals Liverpool at the beginning of December.
But Holgate has kept his place ever since with Colombian powerhouse Mina alongside him for three. England’s tormentor at the 2018 World Cup following his late equaliser forced stoppage time in the last-16, Mina grabbed the headlines on Saturday with a brace against Watford since the ten-man Toffees came from 2-0 down to win.
Equally vital in securing the win was Holgate. He underlined his versatility once again, this time stepping to midfield to deputise for Fabian Delph following his dismissal. In doing this he went toe-to-toe with Watford’s twin midfield powerhouses Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré.
No-one on the area at Vicarage Road completed more passes than Holgate (48), while he won 100 percent of the killing and attacking aerial duels he contested, made eight ball recoveries and finished two interceptions for the people.
It was the kind of performance that could have left Silva red-faced at the prospect of selling him.
Now his new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, is keen to tie Holgate down to a new long-term bargain, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The feeling is mutual, also. Holgate believes the arrival of the three-time Champions League winner has benefitted his match.
“If you look around the group, it is not just me but everyone who has been getting better and better,” he said.
“The mentality has lifted and that’s revealed in our performances and we will be able to get stronger as we get used to doing our jobs properly.”
It’s hard to ignore the signs. Since Ancelotti took over from interim manager Duncan Ferguson on December 21, Holgate has seen a significant spike in several of key metrics.
From a defensive perspective, the Doncaster native is winning more aerial duels (2.25 vs. 1.95) per 90 and completing more interceptions (1.63 vs. 1.22).
More impressive, however, is his increased involvement in how Everton progress the ball in possession. From averaging 25.37 completed passes (per 90) under Silva and Ferguson, Holgate now finds a blue shirt with 48.38. He’s also averaging considerably more attempted passes, up from 33.78 (per 90) to 56.13.
Holgate’s comfort in ownership is little surprise when you learn that the defender models himself on Real Madrid and Spain captain Sergio Ramos.
“Although he is a ball-playing defender, he’s also physical and he throws his body around. I’ve watched him since I’ve been 18,” he told the Daily Star.
“I’ve always seen myself as a ball-playing centre half like him, but to be able to do both and he does is something I’ve always enjoyed and watched.”
His new supervisor coached Ramos at the Santiago Bernabéu and can count a number of the best defenders of all time among his former students; Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, and Billy Costacurta in Milan and, more recently, Kalidou Koulibaly, Mats Hummels and Tiago Silva.
Holgate has a long way to go to achieve those levels, but if Ancelotti could have anything like the impact on Holgate he had on the others, he is in good hands.