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Everton defender Mason Holgate on home life during lockdown and the art of defending under Ancelotti

There might be no football but that has not stopped Mason Holgate from working to keep a dangerous opponent at bay.

‘You have to be careful,’ the Everton defender warns. ‘If you get bored, you can’t just go to the kitchen and get yourself a biscuit to pass the time. You’re not doing high-intensity things that can just burn it off, as would normally be the case.’

The challenge to stay fit while there are no games is unusual for Premier League players and Holgate starts this conversation with a detailed explanation of how he is still able to put in some hard yards.

Everton’s squad report to the sports science team every few days and the club’s nutritionist has sent them diet plans and advice to keep their immune systems healthy.

Holgate has not yet felt compelled to join in with The Body Coach’s live stream on YouTube each morning and he has, at least, been able to use his one permitted daily venture outside to go running. 

‘We will be ready to go again as soon as we get the nod, whenever that may be,’ he says chirpily, while explaining that he is spending his days doing cardiovascular sessions in the morning and gym work in the afternoon.

Physical health, however, soon turns into a discussion about mental health. When it was announced that a lockdown of the country was coming, Holgate, 23, headed home from his Manchester base to mum and dad, Julie and Tony, in Doncaster.

‘The main thing is just keeping out of my mum’s way so she doesn’t shout!’ he says, aware that parents’ house rules never change. ‘The biggest concern I have about isolation is her going mad at me! It is like being a teenager again!’

He appreciates his good fortune in having a strong network around him but knows others are not so fortunate. This became clear during his call to 92-year-old Evertonian Alex, who is isolating at home in Crosby.   

Manager Carlo Ancelotti and chairman Bill Kenwright have phoned supporters as part of the club’s Blue Family campaign to help vulnerable fans during the pandemic. Holgate happily followed their lead and his call inadvertently became a history lesson.

‘He literally went through the whole timeline of being an Everton fan,’ said Holgate. ‘He went through all the history, all the great achievements. He told me his first game was when Dixie Dean made his comeback from injury. His brother took him as a three-year-old. That’s 89 years!

‘I know when I’m in Manchester I get really, really bored if I am on a day off. To do that over a period of weeks, by yourself, would be really difficult. Luckily, I have a family who I could come to. Others aren’t so fortunate. There are only so many things you can do on your own.’

The persistent pinging of the squad’s WhatsApp group has shown Holgate how much his colleagues are missing being at Finch Farm, their training base. 

‘The absence of the daily patter is almost as big a miss as the football. But Alex has 12 weeks in front of him of not being able to see anyone,’ says Holgate, who was signed from Barnsley in 2015.

‘Yet he can sit there and talk so happily. He told me what he is doing to keep busy — a few jobs around the bungalow — and how he is staying positive.

‘He’s had such an amazing life and Everton has been such a huge part of it. To hear someone with that experience talk so warmly about the things the club has won was pretty inspirational, really. The best thing to hear was the fact he was in such great spirits.’

There were, of course, some complimentary words in return. Alex, who is still a season-ticket holder, told Holgate he was the most improved player of the season so far and plenty would subscribe to that view, with his progress reflected by the recent award of a new five-year deal.

Ancelotti has described Holgate — along with his close friend Dominic Calvert-Lewin — as ‘the future’ of Everton and there is hope he could be a candidate for England senior honours in the future. For advice he can call Rio Ferdinand, who is part of the agency which looks after Holgate, but he knows the benefits of working with Ancelotti are huge.

‘As a man, he is unbelievable,’ says Holgate. ‘The stories he has are crazy. There was a point a few weeks ago when he asked in the dressing room, ‘Did anyone see me play?’ As a squad, we are quite young, so it all went quiet! He started laughing and then began to tell us a few things.

‘I look at the players he has worked with in my position. He has worked with some of the best names and got the best out of them, so when he says something — or when he does something — you know he has done it all before. It is coming from experience. If he is saying something, it will be right.’

Nobody knows when this campaign will begin again but when it does, Holgate will have a renewed appetite to make every second count. There will be good times again. He is sure of it.

‘If I look back on what I have done, I’m quite happy,’ he explains. ‘But if I haven’t progressed again in 12 months there would be no point in thinking I have done well now.

‘I can’t stay at this level. I can’t go backwards. I have to go again.’

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