You might not admire Daniel Levy, but have to chuckle at his consistency. Tottenham have just lost the north London derby, when the punditocracy was beginning to talk of the famed gap between the red and white sides of the rivalry growing in their direction, and drew disappointingly with West Brom at the weekend. There are a few rumbles in the fan base and some supporters have even questioned whether Mauricio Pochettino, one of the most progressive coaches in the game, is all that.
Levy is a master of communication and subterfuge well beyond the world of sport – famed for pulling off great deals. Fulham fans of course have bitter experience of how he snared Mousa Dembele at the last knockings of the 2012 transfer window and would, therefore, have eyed yesterday morning’s Telegraph report that Spurs had installed Ryan Sessegnon as their one number one target to replace the ‘fuming’ Danny Rose with great trepidation. Given the way the modern sports media works, it was soon blasting around cyperspace, social media and leading Sky Sports News, with a special package heading the hourly bulletin.
As ever, the substance behind the story is difficult to find. Levy and Spurs did their best to try and rattle Fulham earlier in the year, briefing to the same paper that they’d placed a £25m bid for Sessegnon, having been one of a host of leading clubs disappointed when one of the country’s most coveted young players signed his first professional contract with a Championship club. No formal offer was received by Fulham – this was merely a test balloon floated to see if whispers of teaming up with Tottenham and Pochettino could tempt the teenager away.
Sessegnon, who along with his twin brother Steven has been with Fulham since the age of eight, was mature enough to recognise that, whilst he could have easily swapped Motspur Park for a Premier League club in the summer off the back of his astonishing exploits during his breakthrough season in senior football, learning his craft at a club committed to providing the pathway through to the first team for their young starlets was best for his development. He’s been a regular in Slavisa Jokanovic’s side this season, starting at left back, and scored that sensational hat-trick at Sheffield United – which seems to have started off a new round of frenzied speculation.
Matt Law’s piece proclaims that Sessegnon is above Luke Shaw in Pochettino’s pecking order to replace Rose, who is apparently destined to join Manchester United in January. The report builds on the Mail’s revelation at the weekend that there’s no minimum release fee clause in the deal that Sessegnon signed over the summer, but adds that Fulham struggle to retain the youngster should they fail to reach the Premier League in May, which seems like a bold claim given that he was happy to sign on after the play-off heartbreak. Why might this link come now, at a time when Spurs are worried about being left behind in the league again? Could it be because Manchester United have been linked with a £35m move for Sessegnon in the new year?
Perhaps the most intriguing part comes at the end, where Law writes:
But Tottenham believe Pochettino’s record of bringing through talented English youngsters puts them in a strong position for Sessegnon’s signature.
Pochettino has undoubtedly cultivated the talents of Harry Kane, Dele Ali and Harry Winks in the past couple of years, but you don’t have to cast your mind back too far to see how Spurs’ jettisoned the careers of several English talents. Sessegnon could just ask the last local boy to come through the academy – a midfielder who played in all four divisions for the club, represented England at youth level, and enjoyed cult hero status with the fans.
Sean Davis had his head turned at the height of his powers and, after a standoff, swapped west London for White Hart Lane, whereupon his promising career failed to take off. The man who amassed 188 appearances for the Whites, scoring goals at Blackburn and at home to Sheffield Wednesday that ensured Fulham would return to the Premier League having been given his senior debut by Micky Adams as he was resurrecting the club in the bottom tier four years earlier, would tell Sessegnon to learn from his experience and stay put.
Fortunately, Fulham’s hottest property is a man whose maturity and intelligence belies his tender years. He has a genuine appreciation for the club that have given him and his Steven their chance to shine and clearly loves the affinity developing between him and the Fulham fans. That doesn’t mean to say we can book in his testimonial at Craven Cottage for 2026 but it might suggest that we are dealing with a different character to Moussa Dembele, who moved to Celtic for a nominal fee two years ago, having benefited from the Motspur Park finishing school or even Pat Roberts.
The best summation of Sessegnon’s career prospects came in this weekend’s Football League paper from Adam Virgo (pictured left), who advised Gareth Southgate to consider picking the Fulham prospect in his next England squad. That might be a little premature considering Sessegnon hasn’t even had an under-21 call-up yet, but if Southgate, who knows his history, wants to return from Russia with silverware next summer he will have to fast track a Fulham player into his plans at some point.
When he turns in performances like the one that terrorised Championship pacesetters Sheffield United at Bramall Lane this evening, it is hard to believe that Ryan Sessegnon is just seventeen. The teenage starlet celebrated his fiftieth senior appearance for Fulham with a hat-trick that blunted the Blades’ bid climb above Wolves at the top of the table, ended the Whites’ six-game winless streak and earned Slavisa Jokanovic’s side their first win at the oldest league ground in English football since Leroy Rosenior grabbed all three points in April 1985.
The visitors were grateful for Sessegnon’s predatory instincts at the end of 105 pulsating minutes because they were somehow clinging on by their fingertips to a precious victory, having been 5-2 ahead with twelve minutes to go. Chris Wilder has already proven that he doesn’t know how to go gently into the night – and his side were almost rewarded for their commendable never-say-die attitude. Substitute Samir Carruthers cut the gap to just two goals with four minutes to play and, when Leon Clarke powered home a close-range header for his third of the evening in the first of six added minutes, it appeared the home comeback was on.
Somehow a shattered Fulham defence held firm and, with James Linnington waving away penalty appeals at both ends in a nerve-shredding finale, it was left to captain Tom Cairney to carry the ball deep into United territory and earn Jokanovic’s side the most improbable victory of their stuttering season. It owed much to the returning Liverpool loanee Sheyi Oyi, whose early recovery from a dislocated shoulder allowed him to score twice either side of half-time and create another goal for Sessegnon. The England Under-20 World Cup winner more than justified the faith his head coach showed in him – and injected both pace and power into what had previously been a rather toothless Fulham attack.
The evening had initially appeared to be following the traditional script in S2. The Blades began with all the intensity and confidence of a side that has got used to sweeping opponents aside over the past two seasons, although Jokanovic and his coaching staff would have been furious with how former Rangers midfielder John Fleck was encouraged to carry the ball to within 20 yards of the Fulham goal and rifle a shot at David Button. The Fulham goalkeeper did well to get a hand to it, but as the visiting defence stood and watched, Clarke poached his tenth goal of the season. It was inexcusably easy.
Nobody could have legislated for the turnaround that occurred in the space of a couple of minutes just before the half-hour. Ojo had already shown the appetite to get behind the Blades back line and he certainly didn’t need any invitation to gallop onto a woefully underhit backpass from Cameron Carter-Vickers and tuck an assured finish past Jamal Blackman. From their next attack, Fulham went in front. Sessegnon, starting as the left winger in a fluid front three, drove at the heart of the home defence – ignoring the intelligent run of Floyd Ayite outside him – and bent a brilliant finish beyond Blackman’s left hand from more than 20 yards. It was a thing of a beauty from the European U17 champion who turned down the continent’s leading clubs to continue his footballing education at Fulham.
An insanely open contest developed a physical edge to it as the first half wore on with John Lundstram, who came in after Paul Coutts unfortunate leg break at the weekend, lunging nastily at Tom Cairney and Billy Sharp manhandling an incensed Ryan Fredericks. Fulham looked to have weathered a prolonged spell of home pressure, but Clarke slipped past Tim Ream with a stepover to create half a yard of space and his low drive burst through Button at the goalkeeper’s near post to level the scores. It was another tame goal to concede – and Fredericks’ enraged scowl at the ease with which the Blades wiped out Fulham’s advantage said it all.
Jokanovic has always encouraged his side to play with freedom and, incredibly, they went back in front before a breathless first period had even concluded. The excellent Ojo sauntered down the right and carved out an inviting cross, which Sessegnon stroked home on the volley at the back post. Wilder’s men emerged with renewed purpose after the interval and both Jack O’Connell and Clarke went close with chances earlier in the second half before an excellent piece of defending from Ream denied Enda Stevens a sight of goal.
The Blades then threw on the impressive David Brooks and Carruthers in an attempt to conjure up an equaliser but it was actually the Londoners who increased their lead on the break. The recently introduced Aboubakar Kamara accelerated away from the Blades defence and unselfishly squared the ball for Ojo, whose low finish squeezed past Blackman with the aid of a deflection. When Cairney acrobatically cleared James Hanson’s header off the line and Sessegnon completed his hat-trick with a rasping drive from the right angle of the box, Fulham seemed home and dry at 5-2.
But that reckoned without United’s undying spirit. After Kamara had an audacious finish ruled out for a seemingly innocuous challenge in the build-up, the Blades took renewed belief from Carruthers’ deflected strike that completely wrongfooted Button. The streams of home fans who had left early looked to have overlooked their side’s battling qualities when Clarke converted a dangerous cross from his captain Sharp to claim his second hat-trick in successive Bramall Lane appearances – and Fulham were left nervously clinging to the slenderest of leads during a seemingly never-ending period of added time.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Blackman; Carter-Vickers (Brooks 58), Jake M. Wright, O’Connell; Basham, Stevens, Lundstram, Duffy (Carruthers 60), Fleck; Sharp, Clarke. Subs (not used): Moore, Stearman, Donaldson, Lafferty.
BOOKED: Lundstram, Sharp, Brooks.
GOALS: Clarke (6, 39, 90+1), Carruthers (86).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald (Johansen 83), Norwood, Cairney; Ojo (Fonte 74), R. Sessegnon, Ayite (Kamara 68). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Edun, de la Torre.
BOOKED: Fredericks, Ayite, Odoi, Kamara.
GOALS: Ojo (28, 69), R., Sessegnon (30, 43, 78).
REFEREE: James Linnigton (Isle-of-Wight).