David Moyes signed a relatively-unknown defender from Barnsley right at the end of the January transfer window during the 2012-13 season. This was Moyes' last signing for Everton, and turns out this player could be one of the best ever to have donned the royal blue jersey. As you all know, that player is John Stones and we're all desperately hoping he continues to play for Everton for many seasons to come.
Now Roberto Martinez is dipping into the Barnsley defenders well to see if he can pull out another diamond in the rough. Mason Holgate is the name, and the Premier League's clubs have been buzzing around him for close to a year now. Unlike Stones though, who had already played for England at the U19-level when Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton came knocking, Holgate has only played in twenty-two fixtures for Barnsley in League One. Such is the demand for homegrown players, especially defenders, that players are getting signed up earlier and earlier, often before they have shown their full pedigree.
Holgate is a centre back who can play at right back as well, much like Stones. He has scored one goal in his time at Oakwell. Among the clubs that had shown an interest in the youngster were Manchester United who took him on a one-week trial, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Liverpool and Arsenal, who have been tracking him since December.
The transfer fee has been rumoured to be £1million, with add-ons totaling a further £1million depending on performance and appearances. Though the full terms of the deal have not been disclosed, the youngster has signed a five-year deal.
The second-year scholar signed his first pro contract at Oakwell in September - and made his first-team debut against Doncaster in December. He joined the Oakwell Academy as a nine-year-old, where he became a regular in the Reds' youth teams. Upon signing his first pro deal, Barnsley Academy manager, Ronnie Branson said:
"Mason is a bright and intelligent player. He's a good centre-half and we have high hopes for him to progress. We've had interest from other clubs for Mason."
Barnsley Chronicle sports editor Douglas O'Kane, when asked about the prospect had this to say about the Tykes' defender in an interview with The Liverpool Echo.
"It's a tall order to compare a young player to John Stones," he says. "We've all watched John develop into an England international and produce some tremendous performances which have even left some Barnsley fans surprised at the sheer pace he has blossomed.
"But you can compare the two in many ways definitely."
"Like John, Mason has been at Barnsley since he was eight and broke into the first team just 10 years later. They have both come up the ranks playing at centre back but each got into the senior set-up at right-back and proved just as accomplished there.
"Barnsley pride themselves on their academy and they like to play a passing game right throughout the youth teams."Defenders are coached to bring the ball from the back and play the way John does. It gets drilled into them from an early age and Mason is the same, very comfortable on the ball and able to play off both feet although he's naturally right-footed."
"You could say that John proved himself playing in the Championship whereas Mason broke into a League One team, but that's no slight on him. He still looked every inch a natural playing against older and stronger opponents last season.
"He's from Doncaster and actually got sent off making his debut against them. But it didn't phase him and he went on to break into the team at Barnsley and play 22 games in the second half of last season. He was in that team on merit too."He scored in a pre-season friendly against Huddersfield playing as a right wing-back and to see him racing up the flank, taking people on and whipping it in with both feet was a joy. He's a very good footballer."
"In the long run he will be a centre-back. No doubt. That's where he has excelled during his time at the academy and where he will show his talents to their fullest.
"You'd watch him last season and it was crazy to think he was just 18. He was so calm and composed. With a bit of luck and the right coaching he'll become a top player."