On Saturday the 22nd of October 2011, up in Teeside, a 15-year old was making his first-team debut for Derby County. His name was Mason Bennett and he was hustling and bustling his way against the Middlesborough defence like they were his schoolmates on the playground.That day his enemy was Scotland international Stephen McManus, when everyone else his age was facing up to the threat of the upcoming GCSE examinations.
At just 15 years and 99 days, Bennett’s 78 minutes versus Boro’, made him Derby’s youngest ever player, and in an inspiring performance he almost became the youngest ever scorer, striking the crossbar and narrowly missing the target with a glancing header. Already Derby boss Nigel Clough has signalled his intent to play him against this weekend’s opponents, proving that Bennett has truly earnt his place and it wasn’t just a lucky decision from Clough to stick him in the team to begin with. He’s been making waves for a while with the likes of uber-rich Chelsea and Manchester City already trying to sign him up, mainly due to his performances for the England Under 16’s, scoring a double and creating the other in a recent 3-1 victory over Northern Ireland in the Victory Shield. Infact, it was this performance that persuaded Clough to stick him in the team, ahead of £1million summer signing Chris McGuire, who has barely even featured this season. Although he has been buzzing around the Derby side since the tailend of last season, when Cloughie was reprimanded for playing him in the Reserves aged 14, and in turn breaking a ruling of the Football League!
Bennett’s youthfulness is epitomised by a brief glance at his Twitter feed, where him and his schoolmates are discussing the recent Parents Evening! It’s crazy stuff that he’s playing for a second division side, infront of 17,000 people, soon to be 30,000 when the Rams return to Pride Park, yet during the week he’s a normal schoolboy. He’ll have to work hard to keep his feet on the ground, then, a thing that the more senior professionals in the squad may be able to help him with.
Of course, Derby lost the game 2-0 to Middlesborough, but the find of Bennett was much more important than the outcome of the game, which was always going to be a tough one considering the Rams have now lost their last 6 games at the Riverside.. He’s shown he is mature even to be a part of what is already a tightly knit squad, combining both of his lives may be a harder task, but you can be sure he’ll give it a go. With all the big teams already seizing up a move for the youngster, though, one must consider that he’s likely to have left the club by the time he’s 20. Still, that’s 5 long years away, and plenty can happen in that time, heck, Derby could be in the Europa League by then! Whilst Derby can only dream of the bright lights of Europe and the financial incentives it brings, for Mason Bennett, it may just be reality.