22 Feb Football League: Sessegnon Continues to Shine and Seems Set for Premier League Step Up
On Wednesday night, Ryan Sessegnon started his 50th match in the Championship as Fulham were held to a 1-1 draw at Bristol City. With 13 games of the season remaining, plus a possible play-off campaign, it may not be long before the Premier League-bound youngster makes his last appearance in the second tier.
The 17-year-old was linked with a move last summer as Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool all investigated the veracity of rumours that ‘the next Gareth Bale’ was flying down the flank at Craven Cottage. Sessegnon decided to continue his development with Fulham at that stage – having just returned from England’s European Under-19 Championship triumph, where his contribution included two goals in a 4-1 win over Germany – but his performances in 2018 suggest he is now outgrowing his current environment of Championship competition.
The numbers are impressive. Since manager Slavisa Jokanovic switched his position from left-back to left wing, fast-tracking his rise into ‘Bale-dom’, Sessegnon has delivered seven goals in eight appearances. A hat-trick against Sheffield United back in November set the standard for his form in the second half of the season, while a pair of braces helped make light work of Ipswich and Burton.
Another two goals at Barnsley saw Fulham fight back to claim a late victory in January, with Sessegnon playing a leading role in the Cottagers’ 11-game unbeaten run before the visit of leaders Wolves on Saturday. In total, the teenager has claimed 17 strikes and seven assists in 58 Championship appearances – a remarkable return for a player still implausibly young.
Somewhat paradoxically, it was one of Sessegnon’s least fluent performances in recent weeks that reinforced the feeling he is ready to step up a division at the end of the season.
In the first half of Fulham’s clash with Aston Villa last weekend, he was barely given an inch as Manchester United loanee Axel Tuanzebe stuck diligently to his task of stopping the Cottagers’ key man. Just seven minutes after the interval, however, Sessegnon’s perseverance and problem-solving skills were rewarded. Freeing himself of Tuanzebe’s attention as Ryan Fredericks surged down the right, he arrived on the penalty spot to meet his teammate’s cross and steer the ball into the net with his weaker foot for the opening goal.
It was typical of Sessegnon’s poacher’s instinct around the box, and telling of his quality which shone through despite the formidable obstacle of Tuanzebe. It was also a moment at which the comparisons to Bale possibly end. While the Welshman displayed the same technical ability and defensive aptitude at this age, he was always destined to be a buccaneering winger, surging down the sidelines, firing shots into the far corner and ordering taxis for Maicon. Sessegnon is less charging and more cunning.
With exceptional close control and a burst of acceleration, he has had the better of most Championship right-backs this season. But Sessegnon’s ratio of four assists to 12 goals is telling; Jokanovic moved him up the pitch because he spotted a forward in full-back form. It is around the penalty area that he truly comes alive, finding space where there isn’t supposed to be any, and anticipating deliveries from the opposite flank to perfectly position himself for the finish.
It may be that, if he completes a reported switch to Tottenham in the summer, the youngster reverts to the left-back role in which he first made the breakthrough at Fulham. But at this level he is the clutch player – as his goals and match-winning displays have proved. He is the 17-year-old leader of a team tearing up the table just as they did at this stage last season, only to lose to Reading in the play-off semi-finals.
On this occasion, Fulham look determined to make up for that bitter disappointment. Jokanovic has taken the handbrake off his young star, and Wolves, even with their seemingly unassailable lead, will be wary ahead of Saturday’s key battle at Craven Cottage.