Since bursting onto the scene in 2016 as a sixteen-year-old, Ryan Sessegnon’s progress, as well as his impact on the game, has been both startling and fascinating.
Still four months shy of his nineteenth birthday, the left-sided youngster has clocked up more than a century of first-team appearances with Fulham.
After joining the Cottagers as an eight-year-old, Sessegnon made his first-team debut at the ripe old age of 16 years and 81 days when he appeared in an EFL Cup game in August 2016 against Leyton Orient.
Expected perhaps to play little more than a peripheral role in his first senior season in football, Sessegnon proved an exception to the general rule that players need time to bed-in.
Immediately displaying not just a remarkable skill set, but maturity and confidence beyond his years, Sessegnon quickly showed he had no intention of biding his time in search of games, and immediately started giving Fulham boss, Slaviša Jokanović, a selection headache.
The accolades bestowed on this remarkable young man in what is still a somewhat embryonic career lay evidence to both the impact he has made thus far and the expectations that are, unfairly, being heaped upon his shoulders.
As we have seen time and time again, football history is littered with examples of those who shine brightly and are tipped for great things only to fall away and either fail to live up to their hype or worse, self-destruct. Although it is still very early days for Ryan Sessegnon, the initial prognosis is looking very promising that he will not be joining this long and far-from-illustrious list anytime soon.
An attacking left-back or left-sided wing-back, Sessegnon has a lot in his locker. He is fast, strong in the tackle, loves to get forward and a ferocious striker of the ball. It is these qualities that have already seen him being compared with such greats as Ashley Cole and David Alaba at the same age.
2016-17 was an amazing breakthrough season for Sessegnon, as following his debut in the EFL Cup he made his league debut just a week later and scored his first goal shortly after that. This achievement made him both the youngest ever goalscorer in the history of the Championship, and the first player born in the 2000s to score a goal in English professional football.
These feats were just the first of a whole host of personal firsts and accolades. In January 2017 he scored the winning goal of the game on his FA Cup debut against Cardiff, and in doing so became one of the competitions youngest ever scorers.
By this time his performances were becoming recognized on a greater scale and his progress was already being monitored by so-called bigger clubs.
A standout showing in a league match against Newcastle United in March 2017 really brought the name of Ryan Sessegnon into the consciousness of the mainstream football public at large. A truly captivating performance before a gate of more than 50,000 saw Sessegnon score twice in a 3-1 victory that had no less a luminary that Alan Shearer purring after the game.
A sign of the young man’s confidence was evident when Fulham were awarded an injury-time penalty and the potential for Sessegnon to complete his hat-trick from the spot arose. Despite showing every willingness to take the kick, Sessegnon was rather unsportingly overruled by USA international, Tim Ream, who pulled rank and promptly hit the post!
Not that it mattered, as Sessegnon went onto complete thirty appearances for Fulham in that initial season and be named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
The summer of 2017 saw transfer speculation surrounding Sessegnon begin to increase. Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton, and Bayern Munich were all said to be amongst the clubs considering tabling serious offers for the starlet. Jose Mourinho was known to be taking a personal interest and had recommended to the Manchester United board that every effort be made to entice Sessegnon to Old Trafford.
Despite the speculation and allure of the Premiership’s top clubs, Sessegnon decided to sign his first ever professional contract with Fulham that summer and in doing so tied himself to the club until 2020. His reasoning behind the decision to ignore the approaches from elsewhere was refreshing. “Last season I got a lot of opportunities so I want to continue that. When you are young, you just want to play as many games as you can,” he stated.
Any thoughts that Sessegnon would prove to be a one-season-wonder were quickly dispelled by his performances in the 2017-18 season. Being an ever-present in the league was remarkable for someone still so young, and added to the fact that he scored an inspiring 15 league goals, it was easy to see how and why Sessegnon has become one of the game’s hottest properties.
The promotion-winning season saw yet again another deluge of personal awards and achievements. He scored his first ever hat-trick in a 5-4 victory away to Sheffield United (despite the presence of Tim Ream in the starting line-up, presumably) and was also named as PFA Championship Player of the Month in January 2018. At the season’s end, he was named both Championship Player and Young Player of the year and was also nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year.
The season drew to a close with Fulham winning promotion via the play-offs to the Premier League and so in August 2018 Sessegnon made his top-flight bow. In October 2018 he became the first child of the 2000s to score in that competition when he netted in a 4-2 defeat at Cardiff.
Although one can never say definitively what the future holds, hopes are high in the case of this remarkable young man. A good solid season so far in a struggling Fulham side in the Premier League is providing Sessegnon with a different kind of challenge than that faced previously, but he is showing every sign of being capable of rising to it.
Injuries permitting, it seems certain that Ryan Sessegnon has both the ability and personal strength to go to the very top of the game. It will be fascinating to see just how far that will be in the coming years.