Mason Burstow has enjoyed a meteoric rise since joining Charlton Athletic, but development lead coach Anthony Hayes has revealed it has not all been plain sailing for the exciting teenager.
The Woolwich-born forward only joined the Addicks academy in October 2020 after impressing in a friendly match for Maidstone United’s U23 side.
But by the start of the following July the 18-year-old had signed a professional contract. He scored with his first touch in senior football – a 6-1 EFL Trophy win over Crawley Town a month later.
Burstow struck instantly again after coming off the bench in the 4-0 FA Cup victory against Havant & Waterlooville. He made it three goals in six appearances in a 2-1 Valley victory over Aston Villa U21s as the South London club booked their last-16 spot in the EFL Trophy.
Burstow, raised in Woolwich and Plumstead, had played two trial games for Chelsea before he scored against the Addicks’ U18 side.
“What I saw when he played against us was that there was a profile about him that I certainly liked and you look for in a striker,” said Charlton Athletic academy manager Steve Avory. “Athletic, tall, pace and a very good work ethic. That caught my attention on the night, as well as his ability on the ball.
“He looked a goal threat against us in that friendly. He had Chelsea interest as well, so we had to act quickly.”
Hayes is playing a key role in Burstow’s development and is also his designated mentor-coach.
But while the Irishman tweeted “what a script this boy is writing” after the forward’s debut goal, he points out that adapting to being at a professional club came with its own set of challenges.
“He struggled for the first couple of months to get used to the standard and speed of academy football,” said Hayes. “Which is to be understood if you’ve never been in the system before – and the full-time training programme that comes along with that. What he has shown since day one is a fantastic work rate, excellent attitude and he is massively receptive towards wanting to learn and improve himself.
“Since the end of January, start of February, it started to really click for him – particularly in terms of movement, understanding variety and appreciation of timing. That was a big, big area we looked to affect.
“Technically he wasn’t bad, he could handle the ball. He had a decent profile and was always going to improve physically in a full-time environment. He’s a player now, because of his willingness to learn and improve, who is really on that upward trajectory.
“It’s similar to Charlie Barker and Deji Elerewe, because of their mentality it doesn’t surprise me that Mase has been unfazed by playing in the senior environment.”
First-team coach Jason Euell, currently assistant manager in a caretaker capacity, has been doing finishing sessions with Burstow.
Hayes describes his protege as being “a real sponge” soaking up information from the likes of Jayden Stockley and Conor Washington.
“It’s up to us at the club – the academy and first-team staff – to ensure he still has a very full training programme,” said Hayes, who has also been on senior duty since Nigel Adkins’ departure in October. “He’s around the first-team pretty much full time now but we have to make sure his analysis and additional finishing sessions are still looked after as well as his game-time.
“He’s got a good goalscoring record – three in six, he keeps telling me! It’s our job as staff for him to not lose sight that he is still developing and learning his trade.
“He was selected on merit to be involved in the squad. When it was his time to come on [for his debut] it’s like you say to lots of young players ‘don’t over-think things and go and enjoy the experience’.
“He’s relished the opportunity to play in front of people. It’s something that excites and motivates him.
“He wants to showcase he is a goalscorer and a good football player. I don’t think there were any nerves, only about how he looked. He came into the changing room with a fresh trim against Crawley. Other than that he was cool as a cucumber.”
Burstow has a couple of family members who are Charlton fans and he recently shared a picture on social media of an early visit to SE7.
So how far does Hayes think Burstow is capable of going in the game?
“He’s someone who we consider a high-potential player,” he responds. “I wouldn’t want to put any pressure on him because I know he sets his own targets. I know there is a lot of goal-setting in terms of creating and scoring goals, as well as making first-team appearances.
“What I do think he is, is a centre-forward who can do everything. He can run away from the ball and he can drop in and link play.
“He can create and head it. He can do lots of good things and the more time he spends in our environment within the first team – with brilliant pros like Jayden Stockley and Conor Washington – the better.
“He’s a centre-forward who excites me with the qualities and attributes that he has. With a little bit of luck he can make plenty of appearances for Charlton Athletic, that’s for sure.”
Avory has seen countless youngsters come through the ranks at the South London club – with the likes of Joe Gomez, Jonjo Shelvey and Ezri Konsa recent high-profile examples.
“It’s going well for Mason but I watched him play last Monday for the 23s and he didn’t have it all his own way at Ipswich,” said Avory.
“It was almost a case of ‘welcome back to 23s football, let’s see if you can continue to do the business there’. He has done well in all of his minutesfor the first team. But now we’ll look to see whether that transition period – where players go from the 23s to the first team – can be maintained and he can be drip-fed in by Johnnie Jackson.”
MAIN PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
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