Fulham’s teen sensation, the Championship Player of the Year, has made so many strides in the past two years that it’s hard to know where to start. Cameron Ramsey looks at the boy wonder’s career so far and the major steps he’s made along the way.
It’s almost daily that Fulham’s show-stopping starlet Ryan Sessegnon emerges as the focal point of a torrent of praise and plaudits, but given the 18-year-old’s awe-inspiring ability both on and off the ball, it’s hard to imagine a world where the flying left-winger isn’t the talk of the town. If there is an alternate reality out there, as ghastly as it sounds, where that is exactly the case, we certainly don’t want to discover it any time soon, or ever for that matter.
With a brace of professional senior seasons under his teenage belt, Sess’ has smashed feats which many a journeyed athlete could only dream of accomplishing, and whilst there’s still decades ahead of him in his budding career, it’s safe to assume that the fledgling has achieved far more than you, or indeed I, could ever attain in life at such a tender age.
But, without dwelling on insignificance, the pulsating ‘Young Lion’ has ultimately gone from strength to strength throughout the past two Championship campaigns, where he has consummately claimed an extensive catalogue of gongs, records and most notably, goals, all famously in the splendour of a Whites jersey. He’s one of our own, after all.
Having penned a professional contract at Fulham on his 16th birthday, Sessegnon didn’t have to bide his time for a first senior appearance for his employers. The Whites encountered Leyton Orient in the first round of the 2016-17 EFL Cup campaign at the Matchroom Stadium on August 9th and much was to be anticipated from the fresh faces left-back, who had formally caught Slavisa Jokanovic’s admiring eye in Steve Wigley’s U18 set-up during the previous 2015-16 season.
A mere schoolboy on paper, Sess’ gave the travelling faithful a reason to be optimistic over his future and a first glimpse into what to expect from his vibrant qualities on a regular basis. Against experienced adults on the professional stage, the youngster completed a full 90 minute shift on his inaugural outing, helping his teammates claim a 3-2 victory over the then League 2 stragglers.
Seven days after Orient, Sessegnon was drafted into Slav’s Championship fold which drew 1-1 with Leeds United at Elland Road, a first taste of what it takes to perform in the second-tier of English football, and as we all know, since that pivotal week of first-team bows, the rest is glorious history.
Prior his actual competitive appearance, Sessegnon actually netted his first goal against Brighton and Hove Albion in a pre-season friendly at Aldershot’s Recreation Ground, a second-half strike which helped the Cottagers earn a 3-0 win at the Seagulls’ expense.
But, in terms of registering his first strike that counted, against Cardiff City, Sess’ latched onto a trickling Sone Aluko cross which ambled in from the right and scrambled the ball home in the 44th minute, a goal which meant that he and his colleagues went into half-time with a 1-0 lead.
The encounter eventually ended 2-2 and the spoils were shared on that particular date against the Bluebirds, however Sessegnon’s introductory goal broke a notable record, as it meant that he was the first player born in 2000 to notch in the Championship and yes, that makes a lot of people feel very, very old indeed.
Fulham defied the odds on the opening day of the 2016-17 campaign at Craven Cottage by beating newly relegated Newcastle United 1-0 and upon the return fixture at the ever imposing St James’ Park, an all-or-nothing showdown was billed. For those who made the weary journey up to the North East from SW6, their efforts certainly weren’t wasted.
Thomas Cairney catapulted the Whites into an early lead with an left-foot drive from the edge of the box and whilst it was predicted that the table-topping Magpies would retaliate, Fulham had a nimble weapon of mass destruction at their disposal and Sessegnon, after the interval, wreaked havoc upon Rafa Benitez’s shaken rearguard.
In the 51st minute, following an audacious Aluko back-heel, Sessegnon swept home Fulham’s second of the afternoon and silenced a usually raucous ‘Toon Army’, although the humbling wasn’t finished there because just 8 minutes later the starlet found his way onto the end of an intricately weighted Aluko through ball and systematically threaded his effort into the bottom corner in the same vein as his first. Darryl Murphy may have struck back in the 3-1 reverse, but it was Sess’ that ultimately attracted all the relevant plaudits, and rightly so, too.
Sheffield United’s Leon Clark may have dispatched three goals of his own on the night, but once again it was Sessegnon that stole the limelight in a thrilling 5-4 triumph for the south-west Londoners at Bramall Lane, a battle that epitomised the sheer tenacity of Jokanovic’s contingent and the raw, unwavering flair within the teen’s developing locker.
Skipping inside his marker on the half-hour mark, Sessegnon strode onto the ball with steely conviction and whipped a strike into the corner from the edge of the 18-yard box, whilst surrounded by four ill-prepared opponents. Then, in the 43rd minute, Sheyi Ojo arced a tantalising ball across the Blades’ 6-yard area and true to form, Sessegnon’s innate ability to effortlessly read the game saw him hammer Ojo’s switch into an uninhabited net with a studied volley.
Fulham were in a commanding position in the second 45 and Sessegnon, in the 78th minute, gave his team a 5-2 lead after killing a looping projectile, jinking past his immediate opponent, and piercing the ball into the far corner, through Jamal Blackman’s attempt to thwart his destined shot on target. United rallied and pushed Fulham to the referee’s closing whistle, and duly left us all white knuckled, but Sess’ accomplishment saw the Whites depart Yorkshire with 3 vital points.
Five Award Haul
Now, not being biased, but for Sessegnon to scoop 5 notable awards in one night, rumours did abound that the nominations panel were all Fulham supporters themselves. Then again, nobody can argue or dispute the effort and dedication behind the starlet’s secondary campaign, and it was only a matter of time before it was recognised by the wider football community.
Merits such as the Championship Player of the Year, EFL Young Player of the Year, Championship Apprentice of the Year as well as being cited in the EFL Team of the Season and the EFL Club-Developed XI of the Season, that’s the glittering extent of Sess’s memorable evening, an everlasting indication of his class and proficiency at such a tender, impressionable age.
Smiles abounded for the teenager, a date to savour for him and the club, and with 5 golden, glistening trophies cradled in his arms, we can predict that an ample sized cabinet was purchased swiftly after the ceremony, as there’s sure to be more accolades to come in the not so distant future to accompany his deserved, already comprehensive haul.
Having missed out on second place by a whisker, Fulham finished 3rd and had the task of downing Derby County in the Play-Off semi-final, a gruelling double header against a dogged, unified Gary Rowett side which were eager to condemn the Whites to yet more heartache in their search for a return to the Premier League.
The Rams rallied in the first leg at Pride Park and landed the first blow with a 1-0 victory, a defeat for Jokanovic’s men which took an undesired record in the Play-Offs to seven on the bounce, although a second stab at the Cottage was yet to come, and with the two contenders locked at 0-0 at half-time by the Thames on the night, a big 45 was needed if Fulham were to make it to Wembley after 43 years of anguish.
Under the lights, Matt Targett arced an inviting effort into the penalty area, and after Stefan Johansen chested the ball into unmarked territory, Sessegnon pounced to emphatically rifle the ball into the roof of the net, a goal that restored parity in the tie.
Denis Odoi, the slightest centre-half on the field, scored the defining goal with a hair-raising dipping header that was provided by Sess’ from a calculated corner at the Hammersmith End, 2-0, and Fulham, as per another magnificent display from the boy wonder, were on their way to the home of English football.
The day of reckoning was upon us, the ‘white wall’ was gloriously assembled and Fulham, under Wembley’s iconic arch, had Aston Villa to jostle with in the 2017-18 Play-Off final, a day in the capital that we’ll never forget for various reasons, but especially Tom Cairney’s match winner in the 22nd minute of play.
The captain’s killer strike warranted a noise that had never been heard before, 38,000 Fulham fans roaring in unison, but the build-up on the edge of the box is what’s truly remarkable about that particular phase, a sequence where one incisive split from one courageous player made a mockery of John Terry’s resolute Villa rearguard.
With a wall of claret and blue vying to snatch the ball, Sessegnon weaved his way through his hapless markers and dispatched an expertly weighted pass that effortlessly dissected Steve Bruce’s back four, a moment of genius and craftsmanship which TC anticipated, and with the goal at his mercy, the Scotsman composedly brushed the ball under a static Sam Johnstone, an execution of supreme quality which will go down in the annals as one of the club’s greatest ever goals, all thanks to the vision and bravery of the blooming inspiration that is our treasure, our number 3, our sensational Sess’.