CAN RY AN SESSEGNON MAKE AN IM­ME­DI­ATE STEP UP?

Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

“Ryan Sessegnon: he’s only 17.” If the Ful­ham club shop wasn’t sell­ing T-shirts fea­tur­ing that slo­gan last sea­son, they should have been. You could bet your house on it: any ref­er­ence to the Ful­ham prodigy in TV com­men­tary, in the news­pa­pers – any­where, frankly – was swiftly fol­lowed by men­tion of his age. Even poor Sessegnon seemed as if he was be­gin­ning to run out of ways to an­swer the ‘ques­tion’ in post-match in­ter­views.

“Well done, Ryan – an­other man of the match award, and you’re only 17?” Even­tu­ally, in May, he did some­thing about it: he be­came 18. It didn’t work. “Con­grat­u­la­tions, Ryan – in the Pre­mier League, and you’ve only just turned 18?” Sessegnon’s age re­mains a source of won­der­ment be­cause foot­ballers aren’t sup­posed to have achieved so much at this stage of their ca­reer.

Six­teen goals for Ful­ham last term, Cham­pi­onship Player of the Sea­son, short­listed for PFA Young Player of the Year – the first ever nom­i­nee from out­side the top flight – and an as­sist for the goal that sealed pro­mo­tion at Wem­b­ley, his team beat­ing As­ton Villa 1-0.

John Terry & Co. had no an­swer to the left-footer’s pace and skills. Sim­ply, he is one of English foot­ball’s very bright­est prospects. When he scored his first se­nior hat-trick, in a 5-4 win at Sh­effield United last Novem­ber, he be­came the first 17-year-old to hit a tre­ble in the top four tiers since Dele Alli, for MK Dons at Notts County in March 2014.

One sus­pects Sessegnon is on the same tra­jec­tory; he may even be ahead of where Alli was back then. Some­times com­pared with Gareth Bale, Sessegnon moved to an­other level after switch­ing from left-back to the left wing last au­tumn. Ful­ham, 17th go­ing into that Sh­effield United game, were swiftly trans­formed into pro­mo­tion con­tenders, Sessegnon em­bark­ing on a scor­ing spree that pro­duced 10 goals in 12 games.

Play­ing on the Wem­b­ley stage didn’t faze him in the play-off fi­nal, so nei­ther will the Pre­mier League. He was al­ready too good for the sec­ond tier, and if the Cot­tagers hadn’t been pro­moted, Sessegnon would surely have joined a top-flight club this sum­mer. In­stead, he gets to make the tran­si­tion in a team with which he’s so fa­mil­iar.

Though there are fears in some quar­ters of burnout – very few play­ers his age start 49 games in a sea­son – he is man­aged well by Slav­isa Jokanovic. Ex­pect an­other sea­son of ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions and com­men­ta­tors ref­er­enc­ing his age at ev­ery turn. “Ryan Sessegnon: he’s only 18...”

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