Niall following in path of England cap Rodriguez

Derby destroyer: Niall Mason celebrates scoring in Southampton's 7-0 win over rivals Portsmouth in the FA Youth Cup
Derby destroyer: Niall Mason celebrates scoring in Southampton's 7-0 win over rivals Portsmouth in the FA Youth Cup
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Former Moorland School Niall Mason has been taken under the wing of Southampton and England striker Jay Rodriguez.

Mason, who was snapped up by football giants Real Madrid at the age of seven, is following in former Burnley forward Rodriguez’s path with Premier League hot shots Southampton.

The 17-year-old left Moorland to join Saints last summer and immediately grabbed the headlines, scoring for Saints as they demolished arch rivals Portsmouth 7-0 in front of 4,000 fans in their third round FA Youth Cup tie at St Mary’s in December.

Niall, a pupil at the Clitheroe-based school for several years, also played for Blackburn Rovers Academy, and said: “Southampton have a great reputation, with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale coming through the ranks, so that gives me great encouragement because they all got opportunities in the first team.

“Jay Rodriguez has been really kind to me, though.

“He heard that I’d come down from Clitheroe, and made a special effort to talk to me and encourage me.

“I’ve spoken to him a few times now. He is a great role model for a young player to look up to because he is an England international and is an established Premier League star now.

“It is my ambition to be a professional footballer and that’s why I chose Moorland to study at because they have such a good name for developing players.”

Niall hit the big time in Spain when his dad Russell was working in Madrid and learned Real ran a kids summer camp.

He immediately signed the football-mad lad up for the two-week course.

But the club scouts were so impressed with Niall’s ball skills they moved him on to a special technical camp for gifted youngsters.

Niall was the youngest by three years at the Bernabeu Stadium– and Real bosses had to bend their rules that limit entry to eight-year-olds and over.

“One of the most memorable moments at the academy was when I shook hands with David Beckham and got his autographed photo,” added Niall.

“I was the only English student at the Real Madrid academy. So when Beckham used to visit us, we often chatted and he encouraged me.

“I was eight then and the encouraging words from Beckham thrilled me.”

Mason, who is eligible to play for America, England or India, added: “My dad was born in the US, my mother is from India, but I want to play for England because I was born here.

“This is something I’ve worked very hard for, but it doesn’t feel too big because I’m developing in this environment every day.

“I’ll just carrying on working hard, and I want to say a special thank-you to the Headmaster at Moorland School, Jonathan Harrison, who helped me grow up to work hard and to apply myself.”