Ryan Sessesgnon’s coming of age has been a sight to behold – for both Fulham fans and neutrals alike. After making the headlines in his first year as a senior at the Cottage, this season has been confirmation of the youngster’s ever-growing talents: 46 appearances, 16 goals, seven assists and an average of 1.6 chances per game to his name. ‘Up-and-coming’ no more, Sessegnon has announced himself in style and now stands as one of the hottest prospects in English football.
More than this, his ascension has been a breath of fresh air: from tales of washing his own kit to taking the local bus to training, Sessegnon’s humility marks a welcome contrast to the usual egos that dominate the sport. When recently asked what makes the youngster so special, captain Tom Cairney replied immediately: “It’s his mentality. It’s a one-off.”
This attitude is reflected in his style of play. Driven, tenacious and selfless, Sessegnon’s influence was clear to see after six minutes of play here at Wembley as he tracked back with his trademark pace to reclaim possession with a well-timed sliding challenge.
It was Fulham’s goal, though, which served as a reminder of his maturity. Having picked up the ball outside Villa’s box before driving into space, the 18-year-old opted against going for glory – as other players his age may well have done – but instead played in Cairney with a perfectly weighted dissecting pass. The Fulham captain delivered, directing the ball into the back of the net with a cultured stroke of his left foot.
It’s because of moments like these that teammate Tim Ream has likened Sessegnon to a “35-year-old veteran” this season, while manager Slavisa Jokanovic has made deliberate efforts to describe the full-back as a “man” rather than a boy. “I try to avoid calling this man a kid, because he is in an important business and what he is doing, normally a kid cannot do,” he said ahead of today’s game. Indeed, Sessegnon's decision-making on the pitch, both with and without the ball, belies his tender age, pointing to a player with a bright future ahead of him.
After once again impressing today, with his touch and intelligent play keeping Aston Villa's defenders busy, the question now is what comes next for the youngster? Sessegnon has insisted that he wants to play in the Premier League with his boyhood club, and given his rise through the ranks at Fulham it’s not hard to imagine him staying put for another season at least.
But make no mistake, the suitors will come. Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United were all linked with the player last summer and are expected to return in the coming months. Whether a move away from Fulham at this point in his career will serve in his best interests remains unclear though. The 18-year-old has come on leaps and bounds this season, liberated by the switch to the left wing which has handed him the licence to roam forward and threaten opponents’ boxes with his speed and positional intelligence. Jokanovic has nurtured his talent, pushing him gently in the right direction all the while being conscious not to push him too much. Why, then, risk this development in joining a club like Tottenham or Liverpool where his opportunities are likely to be limited?
A player of Sessegnon’s age and talent cannot be rushed. He needs time to further grow, and as a Premier League player at Fulham this will be the prime opportunity he needs to explore the outer reaches of his abilities, to test himself against the best and learn from his mistakes. Sessegnon has come this far and if he continues on his current trajectory, then there’s no limit to what he can achieve.
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