Belfast Telegraph

Conte saddened by Mason news as Blues extend open invite

By Declan Warrington

Chelsea are to extend an open invitation to Ryan Mason to attend one of their matches after the midfielder was forced to retire because of the fractured skull he suffered against them.

Mason required surgery after an accidental clash of heads with Gary Cahill while playing for Hull 13 months ago, but having returned to training in May he this week announced his retirement after medical advice.

The 26-year-old's parents are season ticket holders at Stamford Bridge and were present that night in January 2017 when he was given oxygen while being taken off on a stretcher, after which they joined him in the ambulance as he was taken to London's St Mary's Hospital.

Hull return to Chelsea tonight in the fifth round of the FA Cup, though the one-time England international isn't set to attend.

Cahill this week spoke of his 'devastation' at Mason's retirement, but Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will regardless consider the defender for selection.

"I think it's okay," Conte said. "When you play, your behaviour is always with great honesty. We are talking about a top player.

"This type of situation can happen. I was a player and I understand it. I broke my leg.

"My team-mate broke my leg when I was 16, and risked my whole career, but it was an unlucky situation. Gary is a fantastic guy, a fantastic person. He must be okay, it's not his fault.

"I didn't speak with him. If I have to go to speak with him, it means there is a problem. I don't see a problem. Sometimes it can happen, this type of situation. The most important thing is there isn't the will to do this.

"In the same injury, if you remember, Cahill did a lot for his integrity. We are very sad for this news. You have to try and also accept these bad situations. They can happen."

Regarding Mason, Conte said: "He showed great strength to recover, to try to play again. It's a pity to stop your career at such a young age. We are very sad. The players and the club wish him and his family the best for the present, the best for the future."

The Italian remains without the injured David Luiz, Ross Barkley and Tiemoue Bakayoko, and plans to rotate his team with matches against Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City to follow.

"To play on Friday is good for us," he said. "It gives us three days to try and prepare for the game against Barcelona.

"At the same time, between these games, we have two strong games in the league: Manchester United and Manchester City, both away. If we were lucky to play on Friday, we were very unlucky to have this schedule.

"I hope there is no replay. We had one against Norwich, but I hope to win this game."

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