There was a telling moment in a recent Swansea City game when one of the touchline microphones got a little too close to the action. Defending a corner, Alfie Mawson audibly yelled at his team-mates ‘let’s make this effing solid’.
Lewd language doesn’t make a footballer and having a loud voice doesn’t make a centre-back, or for that matter compensate for conceding 34 goals, the fifth-most of any Premier League side, as Swansea have done this season. But this is a 23-year-old with just one-and-a-half seasons of Premier League football under his belt emerging as the loudest and most vocal presence in a down-and-out side marooned at the bottom of the table.
That tells us something about Mawson’s character, about his willingness to take responsibility, despite being the youngest member of Swansea’s first-choice back five. He, more than any Swansea defender, has a right to shy away and let others take the lead in a period of sustained crisis, but it’s Mawson trying to organise, trying to make a difference and trying to set the example to follow.
And in one way or another, that’s been a recurring theme throughout Mawson’s career. Albeit remaining on the books of parent club Brentford for much of that time, Mawson’s had to fight his way up from the depths of non-league while on loan with the likes of Maidenhead, Welling and Luton to get his chance in the top flight.
In fact, excepting the Championship, he’s featured in every tier from the Conference South to the Premier League – and that ascendance owes much to the willingness and desire to score important goals; ten of the 23 he’s scored to date at senior level have decided the result and a run of five from March onward in 2014/15 sealed Wycombe Wanderers a place in the League Two playoffs.
That rise is another indicator of Mawson’s drive and desire; three years after going out on loan in the Conference South and one year after being sold to Barnsley in League One, he earned a move to the Premier League and his first call-up to England’s U21 squad; but has also gained him significant experience for such a young player, with 166 senior appearances under his belt already.
While it would be superficial to make a direct comparison, we’ve seen the positive impact such first-team exposure can have – even at Football League level – in Tottenham’s Dele Alli, who made 88 appearances in League One for MK Dons before jumping up to the Premier League with immaculate ease.
This season, it’s been difficult for Mawson to stand out. If last season was a slog for a largely unspectacular Swansea team that went through three different managers, including the calamitous Bob Bradley, they’re now being asked to conquer the same challenge again – already two gaffers down – without talismanic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and World Cup-winning striker Fernando Llorente.
Inevitably, Mawson’s been up against it since the first ball was kicked in August, but he’s also been the most consistent line of resistance at the Liberty Stadium as more senior team-mates have struggled to show commitment and form.
Perhaps that’s why West Ham have taken an interest in the west London-born defender. While some may question Mawson’s quality and further potential, which has been difficult to make a true judgement on due to Swansea’s perennial woes, his character undoubtedly stands out.
And after a summer in which West Ham brought four well-established international players to the club on big wages, only for three of them to struggle to hold down a place in the first team at varying times, it’s clear this Irons team needs more characters, more leadership and more players prepared to take responsibility.
A young centre-back who isn’t still earning the ropes like Declan Rice would balance out West Ham’s aged defensive ranks too, but the real problem is how much it would cost to acquire Mawson as the Swans look to claw their way to safety. Transfermarkt value the 6 foot 2 defender at just £10.8million – but The Sun claim his price-tag is now a whopping £40million if the Irons hope to complete a deal before the January transfer window slams shut.