Ryan Sesseg­non

EFL’s first $100m player? Oh yes...

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - Words Alec Fenn

it’s rare that a teenager ply­ing his trade in the Football League can be deemed a ‘sure thing’ – a player so likely to make a splash at the very high­est level, that the big­gest clubs in Europe are al­ready sali­vat­ing at the prospect of se­cur­ing the star­let’s sig­na­ture. FourFourTwo is in a ware­house-turned-football-show­room to not only wit­ness the launch of Eng­land’s new kit for this sum­mer’s World Cup, but also to meet Ryan Sesseg­non, a player who just so hap­pens to match the above de­scrip­tion. Hordes of jour­nal­ists and selfie-stick wield­ing YouTu­bers are hov­er­ing around Mar­cus Rash­ford, Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain and Jack But­land, but while all this mad­ness is un­fold­ing around him, Ful­ham’s teenage sen­sa­tion sits calmly on a stool in the cor­ner of the room. He may not be able to keep such a low-pro­file for much longer. Hav­ing made his de­but last sea­son aged 16 years and 83 days, he posted a fur­ther 29 first-team ap­pear­ances, scor­ing seven goals from left-back and seal­ing a place in the Championship Team of the Year. Th­ese award-winning per­for­mances came all of two years after he had helped Coombe Boys to win the PlayS­ta­tion Schools’ Cup. If you thought that was pretty good, 2017-18 has been even bet­ter. Ful­ham man­ager Slav­isa Jokanovic has trans­formed this threat­en­ing left-back into an even more threat­en­ing left-winger, with Sesseg­non hit­ting 12 league goals for the pro­mo­tion-chas­ing Cot­tagers. There’s still three months of the sea­son to play. It’s not a bad re­sumé for a hum­ble Lon­don lad who is not even 18 un­til May. Scarier still, Ryan has a twin brother, Steven, who played his first game for Ful­ham in a Carabao Cup tie ear­lier this term. It’s time to find out what all the fuss is about...

Who were your football idols when you were grow­ing up?

I’ve al­ways been an at­tack­ing left-back so I re­ally ad­mired Luke Shaw, par­tic­u­larly when he was at Southampton. He’s got a lot of at­tack­ing qual­i­ties and cre­ates chances, which is some­thing I like to do my­self. His abil­ity to get up and down the pitch is in­cred­i­ble.

Your cousin, Stephane, played for Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion – was he an in­spi­ra­tion for you at that time?

He is def­i­nitely some­one I have looked up to. I wasn’t per­son­ally that close to him, but my fa­ther is. I’ve seen him on TV a lot, but he hasn’t chat­ted to me or given me ad­vice or any­thing like that. If I can en­joy the ca­reer he’s hav­ing, then I won’t have done too badly!

Your brother, Steven, also plays for Ful­ham’s academy. What was it like, grow­ing up and play­ing to­gether?

We al­ways played in the back gar­den to­gether and shared the same dream of be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. It was quite com­pet­i­tive at times be­cause we both wanted to be the best, but look­ing back now, I think that was a good thing. We sup­port each other but we also push our­selves to be bet­ter. We are quite re­laxed and hum­ble, but we keep each other in check as well – we won’t get car­ried away. We know that suc­cess and hype can quickly dis­ap­pear.

Is it strange to have such a dif­fer­ent life to your old school­friends?

It’s dif­fer­ent, but I’ve been play­ing football all the way through school so I think we’ve all got used to it now. I have man­aged to bal­ance my school and football pretty well. My par­ents re­ally pushed me to do well in my ed­u­ca­tion, so I’ve al­ways taken my stud­ies se­ri­ously. My par­ents have guided me well. My favourite subject at school? Prob­a­bly French. I re­ally en­joyed it and I can still speak a bit, too.

What were your aims at the start of last sea­son?

My tar­get was to be a bit-part player and get a few matches un­der my belt, but since I made my de­but [against Ley­ton Ori­ent in the League Cup in Au­gust 2016] I’ve been in the team a lot. I’m just thank­ful that the man­ager has given me this op­por­tu­nity.

Did it feel like a huge step up, go­ing straight from academy level to play­ing in the Championship?

I haven’t felt that. I think the phys­i­cal de­mands of the Championship are pretty sim­i­lar to what they were for me when I was play­ing in the un­der-23s, so I have been able to adapt pretty smoothly. It hasn’t felt like a big shock to the sys­tem.

Did your man­ager give you any ad­vice be­fore your de­but?

Not re­ally – he just treated me like any other first-team player. One of the other se­nior play­ers, Scott Parker, was very good with me. He told me to re­lax and make sure that I en­joyed it. And I did.

Some of Eng­land’s big­gest and most ex­pe­ri­enced su­per­stars of re­cent decades have fallen short when it’s come to trans­fer­ring their stel­lar club form to the in­ter­na­tional stage in big tour­na­ments. The good news is that Ryan Sesseg­non doesn’t seem to have fallen foul of this un­for­tu­nate prece­dent. He has looked as snug as a bug in his coun­try’s colours so far, and not just dur­ing his chat with FFT while mod­el­ling the new Nike jersey (above) that the se­nior side will wear at this sum­mer’s World Cup in Rus­sia. In 2016, Sesseg­non was pro­moted to the Eng­land U17 team a year ahead of sched­ule so he could play in the Euro­pean Championship in Azer­bai­jan. Aged only 15, he ap­peared along­side fel­low prodi­gies such as Chelsea de­fender Du­jon Ster­ling and Arse­nal wide­man Reiss Nel­son. Al­though Eng­land were knocked out in the last 16 by even­tual fi­nal­ists Spain (in­clud­ing Brahim Diaz of Manch­ester City), the ex­pe­ri­ence was not lost on the youngest mem­ber of the squad. After fea­tur­ing in ev­ery match of that tour­na­ment, Sesseg­non was se­lected for the U19 team’s Euro 2017 cam­paign in Ge­or­gia last July. He scored three goals, two of them com­ing in a 4-1 win over Ger­many, as Eng­land went on to win the com­pe­ti­tion. The only player in any of the squads to have a 21st-cen­tury birth­date fin­ished as the joint-top scorer and named in the team of the tour­na­ment. How­ever, all of this suc­cess came as no real sur­prise to Ful­ham fans – nor Championship de­fend­ers – and Sesseg­non’s sum­mer show­ings prompted Cot­tagers man­ager Jokanovic to back his young­ster to play for Eng­land’s se­nior side in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture. So, how much longer will it be be­fore Ryan is bang­ing down Gareth South­gate’s door? Is he lead­ing a new breed of tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient play­ers? And, with the U20, U19 and Toulon squads all winning ma­jor tour­na­ments while the U17s reached two fi­nals, what was be­hind the suc­cess of Eng­land’s youth teams last year?

Ryan, you’ve played reg­u­larly for Eng­land at youth level, but what are your ear­li­est mem­o­ries of watch­ing the se­nior team?

I just about re­mem­ber watch­ing the 2006 World Cup in Ger­many. That was a re­ally good Eng­land team. I al­ways ad­mired Steven Ger­rard, as he had great lead­er­ship skills.

You won the Euro­pean U19 Championship with Eng­land last year. What was that ex­pe­ri­ence like?

It was bril­liant – winning the tour­na­ment was a mas­sive achieve­ment. I think 2017 was a great year for Eng­land’s young teams. There have al­ways been tal­ented play­ers in Eng­land, but for what­ever rea­son we haven’t had suc­cess in ma­jor tour­na­ments.

Is Eng­land now pro­duc­ing a dif­fer­ent breed of player? Did you grow up play­ing cage football football, for in­stance?

I played a lot of street football and cage football from a young age, and play­ing five-a-side in tight ar­eas re­ally helped me to hone my skills. Once you are on an 11-a-side pitch, the game be­comes eas­ier eas­ier, as you have big­ger spa­ces to play in.

How im­por­tant is it for young play­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence the pres­sure of tour­na­ment football?

I think it helps you a lot. Winning th­ese tour­na­ments and beat­ing some big teams is in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Learn­ing to han­dle the pres­sure is great for the fu­ture, be­cause now I have al­ready been there and done it. There There’s huge pres­sure at those tour­na­ments tour­na­ments. If you get beat at a World Cup, peo­ple will re­mem­ber it, and you have to wait an­other four years to cor­rect it. With your club, you of­ten have two matches a week, so you can quickly put things right.

What were your high­lights of the U19 tour­na­ment?

Well, that would have to be the two goals I scored in the 4-1 win over Ger­many. That vic­tory put Ger­many out of the com­pe­ti­tion and gave us a lot of be­lief, be­cause they are al­ways strong op­po­nent op­po­nents.

Was it dif­fi­cult, be­ing away from home for so long?

I think I’m quite used to it now. It’s not the first time I’ve been abroad to play in that kind of tour­na­ment, and it was the same for most of my team-mates, too. I think we all adapted well to that.

Who should we look out for from that Eng­land U19 team?

The team is re­ally packed with ta­lent, but if I had to pick a few names I would go for Ma­son Mount and Trevoh Chalobah from Chelsea. They are both re­ally tal­ented play­ers.

How did the play­ers cel­e­brate that Eu­ros vic­tory?

Straight after the fi­nal we went out to eat as a squad, but I didn’t do any­thing par­tic­u­larly spe­cial with fam­ily and friends when I got back. We did the cel­e­brat­ing with the team, which was great. Our time with the Wandsworth won­derkid is al­most up, but his time is just be­gin­ning. Last sum­mer he was linked with a $40 mil­lion move to Manch­ester United – as well as trans­fers to Tot­ten­ham, Liver­pool and Arse­nal – be­fore he inked a new three-year deal with Ful­ham in June. “I made my mind up to stay, months be­fore I signed that con­tract,” he tells FFT. “I knew I’d play more games here than else­where, which is im­por­tant at my age in or­der to keep de­vel­op­ing.” Twelve years ago, Gareth Bale ex­celled in the English sec­ond tier for Southampton as a 17-year-old at­tack­ing left-back, be­fore be­ing turned into a winger fol­low­ing his move to Spurs. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Sesseg­non has been likened to Real Madrid’s Galac­tico. What does he think of the com­par­i­son? “It is flat­ter­ing,” he ad­mits, “but it’s still way too early to be com­pared to some­one so great.” As for his best role, the Lon­doner is un­de­cided. “I’ve en­joyed play­ing as a winger be­cause I can im­pact the game more in terms of goals and as­sists,” he adds. “But it’s good to be ver­sa­tile. I’m happy in ei­ther po­si­tion.” Ryan Sesseg­non has al­ready com­piled a splen­did high­lights reel. If he keeps adding to it, that hefty $100m fee could be ir­rel­e­vant. He may be ter­ror­is­ing the top flight next term with Ful­ham, an idea that should be enough to give Premier League de­fend­ers sleep­less nights.

“GROW­ING UP, I REALL Y AD­MIRED L UKE SHAW, ESPECIALL Y AT SOUTHAMPTO N. HE CRE­ATES CHA NCES A ND THE WAY HE GETS UP A ND DOW N THE PITCH IS I NCREDIBLE”

Top right Ryan at­tempts to in­crease his goal tally at home to Mid­dles­brough in Septem­ber Bot­tom right Sesseg­non has ex­celled in Eng­land’s var­i­ous youth teams

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