Karan Tejwani writes a detailed scout report on Alfie Mawson, the Swansea and England centre back.
England have a bright generation of centre-halves coming through in the hope of finally tightening the back-line that has so often failed them in recent years on the biggest stages. The likes of Michael Keane, Ben Gibson, Harry Maguire and company have competition in the form of Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson, who became one of their brightest sparks last season in a rather dire campaign that only improved following the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti’s former right-hand man, Paul Clement.
The 22-year-old enjoyed his breakthrough campaign with the Welsh club after several years of cutting it in the lower leagues. His form caught the eye of many, and he made an equally bigger impression in the recently concluded U21 European Championships, where he was England’s rock at the back in a remarkable campaign where they made the semi-finals, only losing to eventual winners Germany in heart-breaking fashion. At this point, there seems to be no doubt that he will become a pivotal figure for the Swans and a household name in the Premier League.
Who is Alfie Mawson?
Born in Hillingdon, London, Mawson started his career at the Reading academy, before moving to Brentford to further develop. It was at Brentford where he would turn professional, but never made any senior appearances for the club in the league – with his only appearance coming in the League Cup. The rest of his time at the club were loan spells, including two stints at non-league level with Maidenhead United, Luton Town and Welling Wanderers.
His first spell in one of England’s top four divisions came with Wycombe Wanderers, where he was a mainstay in the team. This loan period eventually sealed his departure from Brentford as Barnsley would come calling for his services as they aimed to bolster their defence. Barnsley has proven to be quite the development ground for clubs in the Premier League in recent years due to their playing style meeting several requirements of clubs in the top division – Everton have been the beneficiaries of Barnsley’s ideology in recent years, with John Stones being their most prominent product.
Mawson became an integral figure to their side as they went on to win the Football League trophy and seal promotion to the Championship after beating Milwall in the play-off final at Wembley. His success that season finally earned him a move to the Premier League with Swansea, despite never having played at a level above the third division. The defender, who turns 24 next January has been already been a journeyman and the way things are going for him, that journey looks like it is going to go all the way to the highest level.
What is his style of play?
Standing at six feet two inches tall, he puts his frame and physicality to good use in his defensive work, with his experience in the lower leagues helping him develop on his natural attributes. The same experience he gained there has also helped him become a good long-range passer. He often helps switch sides on the pitch with his decent range and at the same time, can do well when he is on the ball.
His height gives him an edge over opposition defences and he is an aerial threat for Swansea on both halves of the pitch. He scored four times for Swansea last season and is a major threat from a set-piece. A conventionally offensive defender, his decent command when on the ball also allows him to glide forward – he is often seen carrying the ball out with calmness and can often help in the initiation of offensive moves.
Upon the first look of him, he looks like the perfect Premier League defender, one who is willing to put his body on the line for the sake of his team. Strong, tall and almost always in command, Mawson is able to perform the tasks he is assigned to do with ease and fearlessness.
What are his strengths?
As expected, Mawson has proven to be really dominant in the air over the years and that has come good in the Premier League. The tough grounds in the bottom tiers – especially the conference levels have aided his development as a footballer and that has given him the sense to create havoc in the opposition box and force an error, as seen in this game against Slovakia at the U21 Euros where he scored his first ever international goal, seizing upon a mistake in the box.
Another of his key strengths is the timing of his challenges, which is becoming important in this era of Premier League football considering the pace of the game. Mawson is aware of when to go in for challenges and that has led to him picking up just one booking all season in the Premier League. Considering Swansea’s inconsistent season that was ravaged by injury concerns in all departments, he has acclimatised well to his surroundings and performs at his best no matter who he is paired with at the back which provides a further indication of his composure.
A mould of the modern-range of centre-halves, Mawson combines the orthodox skill set of a defender, which includes good tackling and blocking with the ever-increasing skill-set provided by modern centre-halves which includes link-up play with those ahead of him on the pitch and keeping the ball flowing. He almost always has a very good pass completion rate which is a key asset to Paul Clement’s style.
Mawson’s physicality, combined with his composure is one of his key strengths. In his Premier League debut against Watford, he was able to hold down the attacking aura provided by Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo and provided more of the same against the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Jamie Vardy, Andre Gray and more. And to some surprise, he possesses a fine finish of his own. Check out this goal against Leicester City:
Finally, his leadership qualities also catch the eye a lot. A very vocal figure on the pitch, the 23-year-old is always driven to succeed and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him become a captain in the near future with his tenacity and humility often receiving a fair share of praise from his colleagues at both club and international level. Having lost former captain Ashley Williams the previous summer, Mawson has emerged as a low-risk, long term and potentially high reward replacement for him, possessing several similar qualities to the current Everton man.
What are his weaknesses?
His main weakness comes from his rather laid-back attitude which has been caught out this season for Swansea, fortunately just once. That came in the away game against Watford – the same side he made his debut against. While on the ball, he was hassled by Etienne Capoue, who eventually robbed him off it and after a little fumble, managed to get the ball into the net to seal a crucial three points for the Hornets. An attribute that comes with experience, this is something that he needs to work on.
There are still a few question marks about his pace, which can be improved over time – he has just had a season in the Premier League. A centre-half that has been very well nurtured, that seems to be the other problem with him, but has rarely been exposed for Swansea or England.
Mawson has come out of nowhere and is now one of the best local defenders in the Premier League. He did well at the U21 European Championships in Poland and certainly has the potential to join one of the biggest clubs in the country and perform at the highest level. Tottenham and Liverpool have shown interest in him, but for now it looks like he is going to stay in Wales for a while, allowing him to mould into a quality defender and become a star in the coming years.
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