In the first part of an exclusive interview with Chelsea’s outstanding performer this season as voted by Blues supporters, Mason Mount reflects on the highs and lows of a rollercoaster campaign and credits the Academy for his incredible rise to the top…

In the final, agonising minutes at the Estadio do Dragao, Mason Mount was every Chelsea supporter, just as he has been for the past 15 years. Having been replaced by Mateo Kovacic for the final 10 minutes, Mount kicked every ball, cheered every tackle and counted down every last second.

When the fourth official indicated another seven minutes of time to be played, he groaned and placed his head in his hands like the rest of us. When the final whistle eventually sounded, the emotions took over – uncontrollable, unapologetic joy, in the stands and on the pitch.

When his father, Tony, embraced him, the tears could be held back no longer. When he got his hands on that iconic big-handled trophy, that smile said it all. Chelsea’s Player of the Year was a European champion.

‘It’s been special for me to come through this long journey that I’ve been on and to now be in the first team,’ he begins as we reflect on an incredible season and his overwhelming victory for the club’s individual accolade.

‘The support and appreciation I get from the fans really means a lot to me and gives me a lot of confidence every time I step out on the pitch.

‘Without them for over a year in the stadiums, we missed them a lot but I still definitely felt their support from home. When I was presented with the award before the Leicester match, it was a special day for me to have the fans back at the Bridge and my family there as well.’

Family means a lot to Mount and he has an extended one at Cobham, having grown up at our Surrey training base since the age of six. He looks back fondly on Tuesday evening sessions working through repetition on the basic techniques that now serve him so well on the biggest of stages and on the carefree fun of just playing football with friends.

Some of his contemporaries, both players and staff, have stepped up through the programme with him. Tammy Abraham and Reece James are long-time team-mates, while coach Joe Edwards has worked closely with the midfielder for over a decade. Others may not have worked with him for as long but had no less of an impact.

‘Without the Academy, I wouldn’t be sitting here now so for me to win this Player of the Year award, I give it to them,’ he says. ‘It’s down to them that I’ve got here. It’s been a crazy journey and they’ve lived with me through it.

‘I owe a lot to them, to the coaches that I’ve worked under. I can’t name them all but they know who they are. At every single age group that I’ve been through, including two years on the loan programme, the coaches have given me something and added to my game.

‘All the staff have helped make me the player and person I am now, especially Neil Bath and Jim Fraser [head and assistant of youth development]. They’ve played a massive, massive part in my career, to start me off and give me the faith from a young age to keep performing and keep getting better, every single year. It’s been a crazy journey and hopefully long may it continue.’

After two seasons spent out on loan, first with Vitesse Arnhem and then Derby County, the past 24 months at Stamford Bridge for Mount have been relentless and eventful. He has made 123 appearances for club and country since making his Chelsea debut at Old Trafford in August 2019, three of which were finals in the FA Cup or Champions League.

As well as dealing with the impact of the pandemic and criticism on social media, the 22-year-old also had to overcome the novel experience of a change in manager when Frank Lampard left the club in January.

The two had developed a strong relationship, Mount having idolised our record goalscorer during his playing days and then linking up with him when Lampard moved into management at Derby. Those difficult moments have provided the dips to this rollercoaster campaign, with Thomas Tuchel’s arrival inspiring a remarkable turnaround and propelling us to an historic finale.

‘There have been a few tough moments,’ admits Mount. ‘Losing a few games where we should have won always hurts a lot and the Arsenal away game is something I remember that really hurt me because of where we were in the table and the fact we needed to win but didn’t.

‘Of course, Frank leaving was a tough period, not just for me but the club as well. You’re still in the middle of a season so you really have to try and move on but it’s tough to do. The new manager came in quickly so you just have to stay positive and really look forward to the next games.

‘Losing the FA Cup final also took a big toll on me and affected me quite a lot, to have that experience again of losing in a final. I felt we were in a very good position and it’s a trophy I’ve always wanted to win after winning two FA Youth Cups so that was a horrible feeling.

‘You never want that feeling again but football is always up and down and as a footballer you learn about how to deal with those moments.’

Mount is not the type to stay low for too long. His energetic performances on the field are a mirror of his character and personality off it – focused but having fun, working hard but loving every minute of it.

So what is the secret to bouncing back from a setback, as the Blues did so spectacularly in responding to FA Cup final heartbreak by securing a top-four finish in the Premier League and claiming European football’s biggest prize?

‘I analyse my own performance to see what I can do better and ask myself did I do enough or can I do more,’ he explains.

‘I try not to dwell on it too much but it’s always tough when you lose and it’s difficult sometimes to just forget about it and move on.

‘It might take me a few days to get over if it’s a big defeat and that’s natural because I’m human and emotional sometimes. When you’re at a club like this and with how much it means to me in the big games, you want to win them so much and you really want to win trophies so when you don’t it’s really tough.’

This summer, Mount will make sure he enjoys that sweet taste of success rather than the bitterness of just falling short. It was his pinpoint pass that set Kai Havertz away for the only goal of the final against Manchester City, an iconic moment that will be etched in club folklore for eternity.

For some of the older players in the dressing room, the triumph was a culmination of a lifetime’s ambition, though for Mount it will hopefully not be the last. He looks at this group as one that can get even better in the years to come, the experiences of this season bonding them stronger than before. Whereas Munich 2012 felt like the end of an era, Porto 2021 could be just the start.

‘A Champions League final is different to most other games you play in,’ he adds. ‘You don’t get to experience it very often and some players even with long careers in the game never get the opportunity to be involved in one.

‘It’s a special occasion and to win it was a dream come true for all of us because everybody stepped up. It’s been an up and down season where we found ourselves mid-table halfway through but we took a big step by achieving Champions League qualification on the final day and then to win it was unbelievable.

‘That’s not just an individual effort or a few players, it’s the whole team and we’ve really come together. We are close but I feel we’ve got even closer over the last couple of months.’

From a kid in Portsmouth to a king in Porto, Mason is very much at the heart of things now and will hope to be for many more years to come.

In the second part of our special interview with Mount tomorrow, he discusses what he’s learnt over the past two seasons and where he can improve still further…