Back in May, when it became clearer and clearer that Ryan Sessegnon was nearing an exit from Fulham, I tweeted a thread.
I looked back at the biggest moments in Sessegnon’s career to date with Fulham. His emergence into the first-team during the pre-season in Cork. His first senior goal against Cardiff at the Cottage. The brilliant brace at St. James’ Park. The play-off semi-final goal. That play-off final assist.
It brought the memories flooding back, the nostalgia of Sessegnon tearing up the Championship at a young age – the joy and pride of knowing Fulham had the best teenager in the country.
But when I turned the page to the 2018/19 season to compile the best moments, the well dried up. A goal against Cardiff (he has a habit of those). A goal against Wolves. Some tidy assists. And that’s about it.
What became clear, and what is still clear, is that Ryan Sessegnon is not a Premier League player at the moment. This is not meant as a controversial insult or an attack on the youngster. Far from it.
I truly believe that Sessegnon will be one of the best players in the world in six or seven years. His footballing brain is unparalleled. His movement is next level. His technical ability is excellent.
But we must remember that he only turned nineteen in May. In Sessegnon’s first Premier League season, he was largely disappointing. Sessegnon was not the sensation of years past in the second tier. He looked lost. Outmuscled. Out of sorts. Peripheral. Tentative. Weak.
What many seem to forget is what type of player Ryan Sessegnon is. A left-back turned left-winger, Sessegnon never was one to consistently take over matches. He doesn’t grab matches by the scruff of the neck, taking on four players at a time and beating defenders at will with silky skills.
Instead, Sessegnon’s best quality is his decision-making, his exceptional awareness. His knack for being in the exact right place at the exact right time. His absolutely superb finishing abilities in the box, almost Miroslav Klose-esque, but from a teenager who isn’t even a striker. His level-headedness, when the pass and the touch and the strike always seemed to be effortless, perfectly timed, placed, and weighted.
And in the Championship, these skills shone. He could be peripheral for an entire match, yet pop up and slot home a winner and be lauded. But in the top flight, the defences were far less forgiving and uninviting. Sessegnon rarely saw the sight of goal, and when he did, he often fluffed his lines and blew his composure. Remember the costly misses against Everton and Arsenal away? Chances Sessegnon would have easily converted a season before, he seemed bereft of the same finishing acumen in the Premier League.
Opposition defenders bullied him. His touch began to suffer. The final ball failed to materialise.
It was an underwhelming season. And for sure, other factors played a part. For starters, Fulham were terrible. Historically terrible. It can never be easy playing in a side that’s so consistently awful that every match forces the attack to try to come back from conceding two or more goals.
Fulham’s management didn’t help. Slavisa’s poor start was exacerbated by Claudio Ranieri’s disastrous reign. Ranieri perhaps did the most to destroy Sessegnon’s confidence, constantly belittling him as a weak boy in the press, benching him in favour of the underwhelming Andre Schurrle, and throwing Sessegnon to the side when he needed guidance more than anything.
In all, Sessegnon showed he was not ready for the Premier League. For a player who was 18 the entire season, that is okay. His development has been laser-quick and it’s understandable for a player of his potential to hit a roadblock.
But to leave SW6 this summer, which appears to be a certainty after Sessegnon rejected a fresh contract, would be a massive career blunder.
Am I arguing for Sessegnon to sign a lifetime deal at the Cottage and play his entire career at Fulham? Of course not, although in an ideal world it would be superb. But Sessegnon should at the minimum stay another year or two at Fulham, continuing his development with consistent first team football in a nurturing environment.
A move to Spurs, which has been mooted, is puzzling at this stage. Sessegnon struggled to start at times in the abysmal Fulham side. How would he fare in a side that just made the Champions League final? Versatile enough to possibly play both left back and left wing, it is hard to see Sessegnon getting anywhere near the first team. Certainly no shot of cracking the star-studded attack. And even if Danny Rose departs, Ben Davies is the far more likely left back option.
Yes, Mauricio Pochettino has an excellent track record of developing young players. But it’s exceedingly hard to ‘develop’ someone if they are hardly on the pitch. Bench visits and bit-part appearances in the League Cup beckon for Sessegnon. What sort of top-class development is that for a 19-year-old?
Sessegnon is at the stage in his career where playing week-in, week-out is most important for his progression as a player. The harsh reality is that the Premier League will not offer Sess a chance to do that next season, or even perhaps the season after that.
As a result, Sessegnon must stay at Fulham. Play one more season in the Championship. Sign on for another year in the Premier League after you help the Whites get promoted. Stand out at Craven Cottage, and then by all means make your career move to a bigger club.
At the end of the day, everyone at Fulham Football Club wants the best for Ryan Sessegnon. The desire to keep Sess at Fulham this summer is not borne out of jealousy. It comes from a sincere belief that a big-money switch now will only harm his career development. I know that one day, Sessegnon will outgrow Fulham and become one the world’s best. But if he moves this summer, that day may never come for the Englishman.