Three years after retiring from football aged just 26, Ryan Mason will lead his boyhood club Tottenham out at Wembley for the Carabao Cup as manager.
The former England midfielder has been handed the reins at Spurs alongside Chris Powell for the rest of the season following Jose Mourinho’s sacking.
Mourinho paid the price for a disappointing campaign, with Spurs currently struggling in the Premier League and with little chance of making the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
The role, however, represents a huge opportunity for Mason to show his managerial pedigree and he got off to a good start against Southampton on Wednesday night live with a 2-1 win.
Nobody could have predicted boyhood Spurs fan Mason, who was born in Enfield and has been an academy coach for the Lilywhites since April 2018, would be propelled into the spotlight so quickly.
He is someone who lives and breathes Tottenham, having joined the club’s youth ranks when he was just eight years old.
Even though he was a real talent within the academy as an attacking midfielder, it took until he was 21 for him to make his first start for Tottenham in 2012.
“Ryan was one of the best youth players I’ve ever seen,” said Chris Ramsey, who coached Spurs’ Under-21s team alongside Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand.
“He flourished late, he was a late developer as a kid, but he realised he had to work at it and he did.
“He was a good finisher, good on the ball, he was very much an all-rounder.”
Mason really came to the fore under Mauricio Pochettino in the 2014/15 season and earned himself an England cap for his displays, setting up Andros Townsend in a 1-1 draw with Italy.
He even captained the club he loves and scored vital goals against Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Fiorentina, while Townsend told talkSPORT Mason’s appointment was ‘full deserved’ – even if a little surprising.
However, a string of injury setbacks and poor form took its toll and he was sold to Hull in 2016 after two seasons in the first-team.
It was with the Tigers where Mason’s dream of playing professional football was tragically cut short.
At just 26, the midfielder made the difficult decision to hang up his boots in February 2018 when, in a match against Chelsea, a horrific collision with defender Gary Cahill gave him a head injury which has changed his life.
Pochettino, like so many of the game, were confident that Mason’s career in football was far from over.
“He will be successful in whatever he does. He will always be a special player for me,” the former manager said in 2018, opening the door for him to return to the club in some capacity.
“He represents for me this change in all when we arrived at Tottenham [in 2014].
“The door is open for me to help him; and the club because we love him and Rachel and George and all his family.
“Don’t worry, Ryan, you’re going to be a successful person outside of the club.”
Having seen off the challenge of Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the Champions League with PSG, Mason has been in touch with his former boss, no doubt for some advice with a game against Premier League leaders Man City on the horizion.
And he spoke of his special bond with the Argentine when he arrived back at the club in 2018.
“I’m lucky that I’m in and around the club and learning from one of the best young managers in the world,” he said at the time.
Chairman Daniel Levy will be on the hunt for a permanent successor to Mourinho, but if Mason can win at Wembley – live on talkSPORT – and get Spurs into the top four he may well have his perfect fit right at his doorstep.
The new Spurs boss, who played with Harry Kane in the 2015 League Cup final defeat under Pochettino against Chelsea, admitted he is feeling immense pride at leading the team he joined as a kid.
“It’s no secret that I love this club. To spend 20 years of my 29 years involved… it’s in my heart, my blood,” he told the media on Tuesday ahead of his first game in charge.
“I’ve always felt a massive connection with the fans. I’ve always felt loved. I’ll give my all to this group of players to win matches. I feel immense pride.”
Manchester City vs Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final is live on talkSPORT at 16:30 on Saturday 25 April