Antonio Conte hails Ryan Mason’s ‘great strength’ after injury recovery

Ryan Mason, right, has been forced to retire after injuries sustained during this clash of heads with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill in January 2017.

Antonio Conte has praised Ryan Mason’s strength of character in recovering from the horrific head injury sustained during Hull City’s Premier League match at Chelsea 13 months ago that has forced his retirement from the game at the age of 26.

Mason, who fractured his skull in a clash of heads with Gary Cahill in January 2017, hung up his boots this week on medical advice. He underwent emergency surgery after the incident and has been left with 14 metal plates on the right side of his skull and a scar that at one stage required 42 staples.

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Although he has made a full recovery, the skull has not regained its former strength. Mason’s parents, Glen and Lisa, are season-ticket holders at Chelsea and attended the game last year, and the club have extended an invitation to the former England midfielder and his family to attend a match at Stamford Bridge as guests.

“We are very sad for this bad news,” Conte said, whose side host Hull in the FA Cup fifth round on Friday. “Ryan showed great strength to recover, to try to play again. It’s a pity because to stop your career at such a young age ... it’s a pity. This news is bad news for us. We are very sad. The players and the club wish him and his family the best for the present, the best for the future.”

Cahill admitted to being “devastated” at Mason’s retirement. The centre-half is in contention to play against the Championship side. “Hull City don’t have bad feelings for him,” the Chelsea head coach said. “This type of situation can happen in football. I was a player and I understand it. My team-mate broke my leg by accident when I was 16, and risked my whole career. But it was an unlucky situation. I repeat: Gary is a fantastic guy.”

Olivier Giroud is expected to start, with Álvaro Morata again making a cameo off the bench as he seeks to demonstrate a return to full fitness before the visit of Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday. Youngsters such as Ethan Ampadu, Trevoh Chalobah, Dujon Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi are expected to be in the squad.