Brandon Mason is loving life at Watford after a breakthrough season at Vicarage Road under Walter Mazzarri.
The 19-year-old youth graduate, who spoke exclusively to Shoot!, has made three first-team appearances for The Hornets this term, after making his first-team debut against Tottenham Hotspur back on New Year’s Day.
Mason, who is set to sign a new long-term contract with the Premier League club this summer, spoke about his appreciation of manager Mazzarri for gambling on the youngster, whilst also admitting his admiration for Watford captain Troy Deeney, who has played a key influence in helping the left-back settle into the first-team squad.
Read Shoot!‘s exclusive in-depth interview with the Watford starlet below…
Having joined the club back in July 2012, before signing professional terms last summer, how have you enjoyed your journey at Watford so far?
“I have enjoyed it thoroughly to be honest. Since I joined, the club has improved massively, in terms of training facilities, coaching staff and things like that.
“We have had many different managers come in and put in different points of views, so I literally wanted to grab what I could from each manager and then learn as much as I could from everyone around the club.
“It seems to have worked because I think I have learnt quite a bit and I am doing quite well at the moment.”
You put pen to paper on a one-year deal last July. Is there a new deal in the pipeline this summer?
“I would like to think so, because I am more than happy at Watford. I would like to stay on and push forward and get more chances in the team really.”
You kicked off New Year’s Day in style, coming on against Tottenham in the Premier League to make your first-team debut. Despite the disappointing scoreline (1-4), what can you remember from that memorable moment?
“Obviously before you come on, you get the tingles in your stomach. I was already out warming up with a few of the other lads and I think one of the physios jogged down to tell me, ‘Get ready, you’ve got five minutes and you’re coming on’.
“My stomach started to go a bit, but I just wanted to do well so bad, even though we were four-nil down. For me, personally, I just wanted to make an impression. The crowd gave me a good reception as well when I came on. I think I heard a few people cheering my name too, which is good.”
Given the fact you have made the immediate step-up from development football to the top-flight, how big is the gap between youth and senior football?
“Especially in games, the intensity and the demands of the game, you cannot really put it into words. The contrast is massive.
“But personally, it was made easy for me because I went away with them in pre-season, so I kind of know what the manager wants and how the team wants to play.
“The players talk to you all the time, so they made the transition a bit smoother. But what I have noticed is once you are playing in the first-team, you get a bit more time, depending on who you play obviously, but you get a bit more time then in Under-23s football. Everything is a bit pacey and a bit rushed. But it is all learning.”
Statistically, you are the 58th academy graduate to play for Watford. Give the club’s status as a Premier League club, is it even harder to break through into the first-team, compared to a lower league outfit?
“Definitely, because the standard is high everyday, non-stop. Everything in training has to be perfect. Obviously you make the odd mistake, but you can’t really make a lot of mistakes as you won’t get many chances. You need to take that chance every single day in training when you get it.
“But I’d say if I were at a lower club, there would be more first-team opportunities in terms of playing games. But it is a chance you take at a Prem team really.”
Other than yourself; there is a selection of fellow highly-rated teenagers tipped for future success, such as Charlie Rowan, Carl Stewart, Michael Folivi and Rhyle Ovenden. Given that there is a distinct lack of Englishmen in the first-team squad, is there any kind of pressure on you to make the grade at Watford?
“I think you just need to be yourself really. Because in the team, there is loads of characters. I don’t think being English really covers much of the team, but we all just get on with it, because we have all got a really good relationship.
“Being English for fans is obviously positive, and for the national team too, but I just want to be part of the team.”
Has there ever been the chance to leave Vicarage Road on loan this season to aid your development?
“I didn’t really speak to the club about it to be honest, because I didn’t really want to go anywhere. I was happy.
“I’m enjoying training, enjoying learning from the manager, which he is outstanding, and the players, I didn’t want to go anywhere.”
Now, primarily you’re a left-back, but you’ve also been operating on the left side of midfield for Watford…
“Yeah, I’m a left-back, but I have played a variety of positions, playing left midfield. I do enjoy the left wing-back role because it just allows me to literally cover the whole side of the pitch. But they are quite similar, left-back and left wing-back, but I love defending so, any position that requires me to defend and I will enjoy it.”
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
“I would say my strengths are my pace, strength, one v one defending, crossing and short passes.
“Weaknesses; I would say weaker foot, shooting and maybe long-range passing as well.”
Do you base your game on anyone in particular, like an idol?
“I don’t really like doing that. I kind of like taking things from left-backs, like [Jose] Holebas, and I watch quite a lot of Danny Rose [Tottenham]. I just take things from different full-backs.”
Jose Holebas is the club’s first-team choice at left-back, with Miguel Britos filling in when required. What has it been like working with them, and have they helped integrate you into the squad?
“They have all been positive because they give good advice. Obviously some players don’t speak as much as they just get on with their game, but when the opportunity comes for them to help me, they definitely do. Especially in training, when I do crossing drills, I normally do them with Holebas and he gives me good advice.”
Troy Deeney, Tom Cleverley and Ben Watson are the only Englishman within the club’s first-team ranks, meaning there is a large array of foreign talent at Watford. Do you think this is solely down to the previous managerial appointments of Gianfranco Zola, Giuseppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia, Slavisa Jokanovic, Quique Sanchez Flores, and now, Walter Mazzarri?
“It is a bit of that, but like the basis of the club is English I think, in terms of people who work at the top end. So it is kind of dependent on the type of player we need really for the team, instead of being from all over the world really.”
Let’s talk more about the current boss. Before his arrival, Mazzarri had managed the likes of Inter Milan and Napoli, does that experience and quality come across on the training pitch?
“I think the manager has been amazing to be honest, because obviously the change of manager was so quick from last season, I didn’t think it would be a good thing.
“But for me personally, it has been amazing because he has given me an opportunity to do well. Starting from pre-season, I was working hard and he saw that, he took me away to Austria and gave me a game out there. I done quite well and he kept me in the set-up really, so he gave me that helping hand and the chance to really push on.
“You don’t really see that with young players in this day and age, especially in the Premier League. And the fact that he isn’t English as well shows a lot about him.”
Is the language barrier ever an issue?
“No, there is a lot of translators around the club, if there is ever a problem with communication. But all the assistants speak English, so it is never really an issue with communication.”
Deeney has been an ever-present key figure at the club since his arrival back in 2010. The look the captain gave you after assisting Christian Kabasele’s opener against Burton Albion back in January suggests he is a real father figure within the squad for youngsters, such as yourself…
“Yeah, it means a lot to me personally because if we didn’t have someone like him around, then I think a lot of us young boys’ heads would go a bit and we would start to stray.
“But he makes sure we are always on track, especially with [the] gym, training, he is always on it and in games. He is literally talking to me non-stop. I feel like I have got a manager or coach on the pitch with me, which is helpful, so I know exactly what I need to do and he is always motivating me to do more, which is the main thing.
“He talks from his own experiences a lot, which is interesting because you just want to learn from what he has done, because he has obviously come along way and he is doing a lot in the game and I just want to learn as much as I can from him really.”
Club legend, Graham Taylor, unfortunately passed away back in January. What was your reaction to the tragic news, and how much did you know about the man?
“I was pretty sad to be honest because of how much he meant to the club. Anything that means a lot to the club, means a lot to me. And to see how the fans reacted on match day about his loss was touching and it motivated us as players as well to give back to him especially, and the fans. It just pushed us on even more. It is sad to see him go.
“I didn’t get a chance to meet him personally, but I heard great things about him. Even before he died, people were talking about him at the club. Especially on match days, people would be talking about him around the ground and in the stands, so he is always going to be a part of the club.
“The love has gone out to him and we have definitely shown that since he has passed. It is sad, but we are definitely going to push on.”
Looking ahead, having made your first-team debut already this year, what is the next big career goal?
“Next thing for me really is to just be a regular, be within the set-up, whether it is on the bench. I just want to be a part of the team.
“Within the next season, I would say I want to be a starting XI player, possibly, because anything is possible. I just want to push on and be part of the set-up.”
Away from your domestic club, and with you not turning 20-years-old until September, has there never been the opportunity play for England?
“I have heard a few whispers and things like that after I did well in a few games, but nothing has really materialised from it, but it is definitely something I dream about doing.
“I hope to do it one day, but I will just keep working hard. It is something I cannot affect, I have just got to focus on my club football and hope I get the recognition.”