Mount returns to Chelsea ready to reignite Man United career

As Mason Mount walked up the stairs to take his seat in the Old Trafford directors’ box ahead of Manchester United‘s Premier League game against Everton in March, he was met halfway by England assistant manager Steve Holland. It was the 21st consecutive game that Mount had missed due to a calf injury sustained in training during the November international break, and Holland was eager to know how the midfielder, a regular for England when fit, was coping.

“It’s been tough,” said Mount, reflecting on an enforced absence of more than three months. It was something of an understatement.

In less than a year, he has dealt with: leaving Chelsea, his boyhood club; moving to Manchester, far from friends and family; picking up an injury after just two competitive games; losing his place in Erik ten Hag’s team; and suffering a longer, more serious injury setback. Tough, certainly, but bordering on a nightmare for a 25-year-old footballer.

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Mount has missed so much football since his £60 million transfer last summer that it prompted a running joke on social media that fans had “forgotten he played for United.” Sources have told ESPN that the sentiment hurt Mount, and it wasn’t a coincidence that United’s social media team posted a picture on the day he returned to training last month.

It’s been particularly hard, according to sources, because he’d been so desperate to make a good first impression at his new club. He’s often seen stopping his car for autograph hunters as he leaves United’s Carrington training ground and, according to one source, raised £20,000 for charity earlier in the season by auctioning off a mascot experience, including the chance to walk out with him before a game at Old Trafford.

According to sources, Mount has found the transition from Chelsea to United difficult to navigate. He’s been keen to win over the fans as quickly as possible, while also trying to remain respectful to the Chelsea supporters he left behind.

Mount was disappointed by the characterisation that he left Stamford Bridge for financial reasons when, according to multiple sources, the decision was made way above his head.

Chelsea’s owners were under pressure to raise money during last summer’s transfer window, and as an academy graduate entering the final year of his contract, Mount was viewed as the perfect solution to generate a much-needed cash injection. According to sources, rather than Mount rejecting numerous contract proposals made by the club, Chelsea were inviting offers as early as December 2022.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, according to a source, was in regular contact with Mount from January 2023. At one stage, meanwhile, a source said that talks with Arsenal got so advanced that Mikel Arteta privately told his coaches that a transfer to the Emirates was “a done deal.”

A year on, there are similarities with Chelsea’s treatment of Conor Gallagher.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has said on numerous occasions that the club want him to stay, but behind the scenes, Chelsea have encouraged interest in the England midfielder, particularly from Tottenham Hotspur. Like Mount, Gallagher will enter the final year of his deal this summer and it remains a possibility that, whether he wants to or not, he might have to leave.

With Mount’s departure from Chelsea still raw, sources say he has purposely done almost no interviews. There is, however, an acceptance that he’ll have to address the move at some point soon, if only to ensure that supporters understand his side of the story.

Mount will return to Chelsea for the first time on Thursday, with the possibility that he could get a frosty reception from the same fans who watched him lift the Champions League in 2021 and win Chelsea’s player of the year award in 2021 and 2022. He will arrive at Stamford Bridge with at least a chance of starting after coming off the bench for the last 10 minutes at Brentford on Saturday and scoring his first competitive goal since Chelsea’s 2-0 win over AFC Bournemouth in December 2022. If he gets the nod against his former club, it will be first start since November.

Sources have told ESPN that Ten Hag and his staff have been impressed with Mount’s determination to get back as quickly as possible.

Despite only having a couple of days of training under his belt, he volunteered to make himself available for the FA Cup tie with Liverpool last month after Casemiro‘s late withdrawal from the squad. Ten Hag agreed on the understanding Mount wouldn’t play but, with the game going to extra time, he was asked to come on for the last 15 minutes to add some much-needed energy in midfield.

Sources have told ESPN that during his injury layoff, Mount asked to be part of team meetings that he wasn’t required to attend in an effort to make sure he was up to speed with Ten Hag’s instructions and ready to return as soon as possible. It meant long days at Carrington and, according to sources, there were many occasions when he was the last player to leave.

Being on a different training and rehabilitation schedule than his teammates has often made his first year at United a lonely experience. Close family members have made sure they visit him in Manchester every couple of weeks.

Finally fit again and potentially back in the team, there’s hope among those closest to Mount that he’ll find the end of the season a much easier, and happier, experience than the beginning. He has not given up hope that a late run of form could yet see him force his way back into the England squad (he’s not played for his country since the World Cup quarterfinal defeat to France in December 2022) for Euro 2024 in Germany this summer, but first he’s aiming to put his difficult start to life at United behind him.