At some point last season, Ryan Sessegnon’s departure became inevitable. He clearly struggled with the step up to the Premier League and he wasn’t the only member of what became a desperately poor Fulham side to do so. It was a shame to watch him wasted on the right wing on the rare occasions that Claudio Ranieri allowed him to start. You could tell that Fulham’s failure hurt him deeply and, once relegation was confirmed. it was a formality that a talent as bright as his would be moving on.
Within modern football, there’s a tendency to diminish the people who depart your team for pastures new. He wasn’t that good, he didn’t fit within the side, we’ll be better off without him. That just isn’t the case. I’ve seen a few fools posting potshots at Sessegnon on social media – and it angers me. We all know that the teenager has the talent to go all the way and, once he recovers the confidence that was so brutally stripped from him during that calamity of a season last year, he’ll probably do it.
Sessegnon’s packed a career full of Fulham memories into three short years. Credit to Huw Jennings and his colleagues at the Fulham academy, who took him straight from school to an audition with first-team coach Slavisa Jokanovic, when they felt he was ready to train with the senior side in the summer of 2016. Nobody would have expected the sixteen year-old to prosper in the way that he did. Jokanovic didn’t take long to be convinced of Sessegnon’s prodigious talent and the player himself credits Scott Parker with being one of the people to ensure he settled in senior football. It’s a shame that Parker’s promotion to first team manager didn’t come sooner, in a way.
The poise with which Sessegnon took to senior football was remarkable. His debut at Leyton Orient might have been notable, but the maturity with which he ran at a retreating Leeds defence a few days later on his senior debut was startling. Jokanovic gave the youngster license to roam from left back and the goals soon flowed. There was his first strike against Cardiff, a predatory one that hinted at a suitability to play further forward, and a winner in the FA Cup in the Welsh capital. He came to national attention with a brace at Newcastle, putting his finger to his lips at the Gallowgate End, and would have a hat-trick against the champions had he been allowed to take an injury-time penalty.
Jokanovic tried to dampen down all the talk about his superstar but Sessegnon’s performances might those efforts futile. It was astonishing that having been the youngest ever inclusion in a Football League team of the year in 2016/2017, the level of his displays simply increased. No second season syndrome for young, Ryan. He scored an outstanding hat-trick on an unforgettable night at Sheffield United and only looked dazed by what he’d done afterwards, clutching the match ball tightly as he boarded the team coach afterwards.
Such was the consistency of his excellence, it came as a surprise that Jokanovic rested him at Norwich City in April. Fulham had been worried about burnout given that the young winger – for he had now firmly nailed down that advanced position – was playing far more senior football than anyone had envisaged. His uncanny knack of popping up in the opposition penalty area was proving crucial – goals against promotion rivals Aston Villa, Wolves, Derby and Millwall sustained Fulham’s 23-match unbeaten run to the end of the season and, when the Whites needed a lift in the second leg of a tight play-off semi final against Derby, there was Sessegnon to slam home an equaliser.
Nobody connected with the club will ever forget Wembley. A gorgeous day at the sun-kissed national stadium against Aston Villa – and those nerves gnawing away at you. Not that the pressure seemed to bother Sessegnon, who spun away from the Villa midfield to slide a beautiful ball through the defence for his captain Tom Cairney to settle the final. The return to the top flight might have been fleeting and deeply unsatisfactory, but the joy of that day will remain with every Fulham fan forever.
The consequence of just how easy Sessegnon made the step from academy prodigy to senior football might mean that people expect others to replicate his achievements. They won’t. It would be unfair to judge anyone by Sessegnon’s ridiculously high standards. He was a one-off. A star who shone in a sensational side and whose delight at making it was infectious. We were very lucky to see him for so long in a Fulham shirt. Here’s to you, Ryan Sessegnon.