EFL: Is Fulham full-back Ryan Sessengnon the real deal?

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So here we go again, folks – the transfer window is open once more and the rumour mill is turning as freely as ever. Every window brings its own unique set of challenges and stories, but the January window always seems to be greeted with a great deal of consternation and resistance by clubs and managers desperate to resist either having a star poached from their ranks, or competing in an inflated market inflating.

This January, Fulham will be one such club hoping to avoid a high-profile sale. Even before naming the starlet in question, you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about; Ryan Sessegnon. The young Englishman has become very fashionable in the last 18 months. At the tender age of 17, there seems an awful lot of fuss over the left-winger who has been linked to Manchester City, Tottenham and Southampton, but is it all justified? 

Record-breaker

Well, to answer that question lets start with the basics: Sessegnon broke into the Fulham first team last term and has enjoyed a rocket ride to the top of the ‘young English talent’ watch list ever since. On the August 9, 2016, at the age of 16, Sessegnon debuted against Leyton Orient in the EFL Cup. Seven days later, he made his league debut against Leeds United. After another four days, he scored his first professional goal for the club, becoming the youngest goalscorer in Championship history and the first player born after 2000 to score a first-team goal. All of these accolades made for good copy from pundits and media outlets at the time and they were handed more material just a few short months later when Sessegnon scored in the FA Cup. Once again, he was the first goalscorer in that competition born after the year 2000 and was one of its youngest goalscorers.

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Sessegnon scored two against eventual Championship title-winners Newcastle United, making an impressive 30 appearances, scoring seven goals and becoming the youngest ever inclusion in the Championship Team of the Season. Sports Illustrated and La Gazzetta dello Sport both named him in their top 30 under-20 footballers in Europe. All of this, it is now prudent to tell you, came from left-back.

Sessengon is a left-sided player who is usually positioned at left-back under Slavisa Jokanovic, but his best work comes when he flies forward. It seems clear to most onlookers that his best position is higher up the field where he can get more involved in the attack, break the offside trap and take defenders on. Chaining him to defensive duties can leave Fulham open down their left flank at times, but that may be the price they pay for putting such a dynamic player to defence.

A hell of a year

This season, the youngster has signed a professional deal with Fulham and has exceeded 50 appearances for the club. In fact, on his 50th appearance, he scored his first professional hat-trick in an exhilarating 5-4 win over Sheffield United – becoming the first 17 year old in English league football to score three in a game since Deli Alli in 2014. Add to his resume a Under-19s European Championship win with England, in which he scored two against Germany and finished joint top goalscorer, and you have yourself one hell of an exciting player.

Most pundits will say that his greatest strength is his pace, but personally I believe his pace is secondary to his vision and composure. His positional play for a 17-year-old is outstanding; he seems to have a far advanced understanding of movement than other players in his age bracket. No matter his situation, he always seems in control. Perhaps it’s the freedom that comes with being a teenager, or perhaps there is something deeper at play. His pace allows him to move into the spaces that he knows he needs to operate in, rather than his pace leading him into fortuitous positions. Yes, the youngster is quick, but his pace is not what gets him noticed. His pace is what allows him to take advantage of his brilliant composure and sense of movement.

Where will he go? 

Playing Ryan at left-back seems a product of both Jokavonic’s style preference and the depth of the Fulham squad as a whole. At the time of writing, Sessengnon has scored eight and assisted three this season. Unshackled in an attacking role, Sessengon could go in the same direction as Gareth Bale, who started out as a left-back at Southampton before evolving into a wide man at Tottenham then Real Madrid.

Now, that’s not to say that he will match Gareth Bale’s quality. A lot of hard work will need to be done to meet a target like that. However, Ryan Sessengon’s potential is far exceeds any other young English talent his age and it won’t be long before a Premier League snaffles him from Craven Cottage, especially if they fail to go up this season.

So to surmise – is Ryan Sessegnon worth the hype? Yes, yes he is. Every bit of it. But as ever with young players, the most important thing for his career right now is consistent game time. The Championship and EFL are no longer grey, murky waters where players get kicked up in the air and beaten off the park. Flair players like Ryan Sessegnon can thrive there, just as Oliver Burke and Deli Alli did. Whether he remains at Fulham past 2018 or not, he must play, and if he continues to exhibit the talent he has so far then there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a vital part of the England national team in years to come.

Follow Ross on Twitter – @rossbramble

Read all of Ross’ articles on the EFL here

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