CAN RY AN SESSEGNON MAKE AN IMMEDIATE STEP UP?
“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...”