Ryan Sessegnon, assessing the future

The Premier League is unforgiving for young players in general, the speed and physicality of modern football at the very top can often become a deer in the headlights effect for those early in their professional career. For Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, he came into the top division with a few years of flurrying media buzz as at 16 and 17 years old, the former left-back now winger has shone in the Sky Bet Championship playing with relative comfort. Two seasons in the second division has delivered the Roehampton born midfielder with two Team of the Year appearances, a Championship Player of the Season, a Championship Young Player of the Season and Championship Apprentice Award.

With awards and honours of this magnitude for a teenager understandably sees the football media discuss the vultures circling to prey on another talent from a smaller club. As Fulham FC were promoted with a reputation of swaggering, sexy football fronted by the future of the England national team all eyes were on South West London and Sessegnon to provide a pizazz outside of the top six. Alas, the season hasn’t quite gone how either party would have planned sees Fulham in a more vulnerable position to predators with young Ryan Sessegnon a prime feast.

The England under-21 international season has been fine, though many have may have bizarrely expected more of an 18-year-old in his first season of Premier League football, I believe that to play in a relegated team that has largely been poor alongside a spell on the sidelines as part of Ranieri’s exodus and still come up with contributing eight goals is strong. He has to get better physically, has to do a better job with retaining possession of the ball but while his goal opportunities are fewer and farther between, he’s had a nice season in that regard.

So what happens now? Ryan Sessegnon turns 19 years old in May, his current contract at Fulham Football Club is up in 2020 and he has scored 25 goals and by the last game against Newcastle at Craven Cottage, he’ll likely make his 120th appearance. As much as I would love to see the day that a young academy product with talent could break Johnny Haynes’ appearance record (658 which has stood strong since 1970) or Gordon Davies’ goal record (178 across two spells, the last of which in 1991); you must understand that modern football is much more financially fuelled with a top-heavy monopoly unlikely to be tested bar mass rule changes. There’s only so long a club like Fulham can reject millions of pounds and there’s only so long an individual (and his agent) can reject millions of pounds of personal wealth, European football, a greater chance of national recognition and more sponsorship offers.

Today’s Evening Standard (I’m writing on the 30th April 2019) is suggesting that Tottenham lead the way for our young winger with a £20m-£25m, a price tag which would represent Fulham’s biggest sale but a year removed from the figure discussed being £50m. As fans, we’ll likely never know what the true figure is but using £25m as a point, Fulham could keep Ryan Sessegnon for the remaining year of his contract knowing he can produce in the Championship and promotion would likely financially benefit the football club far greater. The risk you do play is not getting promoted and you lose the best player the academy has produced for a pittance in compensation should he move abroad. In this case, if Ryan Sessegnon was to remain in England, you can take the financial compensation to tribunal but may not receive the money for a while. In June 2015, Danny Ings left Burnley and moved to Liverpool following the expiration of his contract. The two clubs had a period of discussion but took the case to a tribunal which decided that Burnley receive £6.5m, £1.5m in performance-related extras, as well as 20% from the fee, should Liverpool sell – but this was not resolved until the following April.

Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Juventus, Manchester United, and Liverpool join Tottenham as premium destinations for Ryan Sessegnon and all have benefits for different reasons. From seeing success and playing with friends to playing with superstars via joining up with a coach with renowned expertise in giving opportunities to and developing young players. The humble boy from Roehampton has heard it all since he was 15 but now it feels real and true possibility. Upon signing his first contract with the club, Ryan was quoted as saying “Last season I got a lot of opportunities so I want to continue that. When you are young you just want to play as many games as you can.” Barring the disastrous Claudio Ranieri experiment, Ryan Sessegnon has continued to play on a weekly basis and having publicly backed former teammate Scott Parker to take the reigns on a permanent basis, maybe (just maybe) the opportunity to continue to play games, to win promotion again and to play under a coach he believes in and knows could convince him to stay. In an interview with Sky Sports, Ryan Sessegnon was coy about his future at the football club, “I’m still a Fulham player, contracted until 2020, So I’m still a Fulham player and in terms of that, that’s all I can say at the moment.”

This was never to be a piece on what I think will happen, or what Ryan should do or what the club will do. Simply laying out the possibilities of sell, keep or keep and extend. Ryan’s future is undoubtedly above Fulham and in an expected summer of an overhaul, the eyes on Ryan Sessegnon’s future will be most pressing as the boy with the world at his feet has an international and European future ahead of him. Is now the time? I could say ask Wilfried Zaha how his experience was jumping from Crystal Palace to Manchester and the response could easily be, “what about Dele Alli from MK Dons to Tottenham?” Whatever happens, I think Ryan has the support of all in the Fulham family in and out of the Motspur Park doors. He’s seen the support he has from the crowd both home and away and I’m speaking for us all, but I think if he chose to move on, we hope it’s too the right club that can treat him how he should be treated and harness that talent that has representing Fulham since under 9s football.

What do we do now?

When an interim coach in charge of first-team affairs is losing fixtures, it’s understandably a lot easier to walk away than if results pick up, as does the atmosphere and performances around the football club. Even a club the size of Manchester United saw that impact as something that they could not reject after ‘loaned’ Ole Gunnar Solksjaer won over the board and was rewarded with the permanent position after winning losing just once in his first 13 fixtures and pushing what looked to be a lost season into Champions League contention. Following the permanent appointment of the Norwegian, United’s form has swung back the other and as I type, the Red Devils have lost five of their last seven matches (including exiting the Champions League).

So what relevance does this have to Fulham? Well, Scott Parker too was put in charge of first-team affairs on a basis of seeing it out to the end of the season for the club to reassess their future. Whilst Ole’s appointment sparked an immediate turn of dominant form, Fulham’s fixture list and quality of personnel saw it unlikely for Fulham to go on a similar run but other than a thoroughly disappointing display at Watford which confirmed relegation, Fulham have looked happier, more competitive and stronger. With a 2-0 home win against Everton and a 1-0 at Bournemouth, Scott Parker’s Fulham has now doubled their clean sheet tally and ensured that Parker will finish the season with more Premier League points than Slavisa Jokanovic, that man that took the Whites to the ‘promised land.’

One could also compare the Parker project to Darren Moore’s appointment at West Bromwich Albion the previous year. Moore was given the reigns after Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew were both let go in between a caretaker spell for Gary Megson. West Bromwich Albion was all but relegated with a 10 point gap and six matches. Wins over Manchester United and Tottenham including a point against Liverpool had West Brom hoping to keep their Premier League status alive until the final day but a Southampton win over Swansea saw the Baggies relegated whilst watching at home. Darren Moore was rewarded with the permanent job and took West Brom into a Championship campaign hoping for an immediate bounce back. Supported with the signings of Sam Johnstone and Kyle Bartley on permanent deals and the loan of Dwight Gayle (among others), Moore had the Baggies in the promotion chase all season but two losses against promotion rivals Sheffield United and Leeds United followed by a draw at home to the now relegated Ipswich Town saw Darren Moore bizarrely (from an outside perspective at least) sacked though it seems that West Bromwich Albion’s finances may not quite enjoy another year in the Championship, the lottery of the playoffs on the face of it was not good enough.

Back to Fulham, the players are openly behind Scott Parker, a good chunk of the squad were teammates of the former club captain but I think you may struggle to find a situation where the players were against the interim coach, especially following a horrible appointment of dinosaur Claudio. It’s hard not to harp back a few years and think of Kit Symons’ appointment following Felix Magath’s reign where the stands were desperate for the then under 23 coach to the first team role on a permanent basis following a strong run of form and very different feeling around the club. That experiment may be one that will worry the Khan’s, the Welshman lasted a little over a year and although through the recruitment of Mike Rigg and Kit Symons improved the playing staff slightly (in came Ryan Fredericks, Tim Ream and Tom Cairney) as well as overseeing the development of Marcus Bettinelli and Moussa Dembele, Fulham remained a team around the bottom of the division.

It would be very difficult to argue against the permanent appointment of Scott Parker being a gamble. The 2019/20 season will see Scott Parker enter his third year of professional coaching after a year with Tottenham’s under 18s and this rollercoaster at Fulham. Parker is currently supported by Matt Wells, a young but vastly experienced coach that was brought over from Tottenham where they worked together and also Stuart Gray, part of Jokanovic’s promotion backroom staff who probably should never have been allowed to leave. Gray has volumes of Football League experience, his stint in charge of Sheffield Wednesday saw them reach their highest finish in the Championship for six years as well as equal their single-season clean sheet record. Where Parker may lack experience on the training pitch, he’s being supported hugely in his backroom staff that he has been allowed to build up to this point.

Since Scott Parker has been placed in charge, we’ve some of the best individual performances from a few players this season. Franck Anguissa has strung together some impressive displays, Sergio Rico at Bournemouth made some impressive saves to ensure he kept a clean sheet and Ryan Sessegnon, playing off of the right, gave Nathan Ake nightmares. Even without Alfie Mawson, the eleven is playing more like a team making the back four feel as solid as it has all season. These last two victories have both been at 0-0 going into half time with an increase in performance once the sides came back out, that really displays a tactical nous and motivational aspect to the job that perhaps isn’t clear to the eye.

The talk of a Steve Clarke won’t go away and I do understand why the Khan’s would want to go in that direction given their previous experience with the aforementioned emotional Kit Symons experiment. I think the last two weeks have shown that Scott Parker can set up and motivate a team in a situation where the players have nothing to play for but pride. If supported with key players staying and adding to the squad, I do believe that Scott and his backroom staff can push for promotion. It is easy to say this when I am not under the pressure of every decision being analysed and criticised, even more so after a disastrous season.

Parker’s prideful Fulham

Premier League safety is vastly unlikely for Fulham after a horrific year back at the top sparked by dreadful recruitment, management and coaching all intertwining to create a relegation displaying everything not to do once you reach the ‘big time.’

Scott Parker mentioned in the lead up to the SW6 Derby that he wanted to see Fulham play with a bit more pace in attack, that came with the return of Ryan Sessegnon to the starting line up and quicker attempt to the final third, whether that came with longer balls or general speed of play from back to front – we saw longer balls utilised more frequently than usual but Tom Cairney was excellent in finding space and collecting the ball between Jorginho and the Chelsea back line before sliding some lovely passes in behind for the aforementioned Sessegnon typically.

Though individual mistakes were still visible, Fulham’s general performance was full of fight and had a period where they absolutely had Chelsea on the ropes. Scott Parker has already gained the support of Tom Cairney who has called for the permanent appointment of the former Fulham captain, and whilst we must be wary to avoid the Kit Symons experiment, this feels different. I think Scott showed some tactical intelligence on his first game as Cairney exploited the space behind the Chelsea midfield and he flipped Ryan Sessegnon to the right who saw some joy against Italy international Emerson. If not for some Man of the Match winning calibre saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga then Scotty Parker could well have salvaged at least a point from his managerial debut.

Back to something different about this ‘players coach’ appointment surrounding a ‘we’ve got our Fulham back narrative.’ Scott Parker throughout his playing career always seemed to command a certain level of respect and that saw him named captain, a leader who lead by example, Parker has always had the potential to have an authority over a team. Having set about his coaching ‘badges’ (my least favourite term in football, badges don’t exist) whilst at Tottenham Hotspur, this moment is years in the making. The return of Stuart Gray brings an aura of legitimacy also as an experienced and excellent coach in his own right which will help Scott through the early days of his management career whether it lasts 9 more games at Fulham or not.

Scott Parker’s Fulham made a nice start on Sunday and according to the former England international, have set a standard for the remainder of the season “I shouldn’t expect anything less, the challenge for me now is that needs to stay and how is this going to happen, making sure that it’s a given every single week.” He understands the core principles that this football club should never reject ‘passing football and a family football club.’

Every coach has to start somewhere and for Scott Parker (and Fulham), familiarity and a mutual understanding philosophically is a solid ground to build upon.

Ranieri’s replacements?

Claudio Ranieri has been relieved of his duties at Fulham Football Club (or vice-verse works too). In preparation for the event, I asked Fulham Twitter to send me their picks to replace the Italian at the helm of the football club and these are the five most popular choices analysed and evaluated with honourable mentions at the bottom.

Chris Wilder:

Wilder’s Sheffield United squad have a completely British squad utilising a 352 where Oliver Norwood acts as the midfield anchor and is having an excellent season, creating seven goals and only Leeds’ Pablo Hernandez has created more chances than the Northern Irishman that spent 2017/18 on loan at Craven Cottage prior to his permanent move to Sheffield.

Whilst Sheffield United don’t play with the pizazz and polish of a Leeds or Norwich, also contending for automatic promotion from the Championship, Sheffield United have the second best defence in the division and are only outscored by Norwich and West Bromwich Albion thanks mostly to veterans Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick.

I admire what Chris Wilder has been able to do at Sheffield United, but also at Northampton Town before then as he won League Two in impressive style. It’d be fascinating to see what he could do with a larger budget but as a Sheffield born professional with seven years of his playing career spent at Sheffield United, I’m not sure he’d leave the club where he has more ‘old-school’ managerial responsibilities for us in the same division with someone with zero footballing experience giving him the tools to work with and happy to sack him if it doesn’t work.

Oscar Garcia:

The man replaced by Slavisa Jokanovic at Watford, it was at Brighton where Garcia caught the eye for me at least. His possession based footballing style starved the opposition of the ball to the extent where they had the second tightest defence in the division. In his sole season at the Seagulls, he replicated Gus Poyet’s unsuccessful play off campaign from the previous year despite a lack of goals beyond top scorer Leonardo Ulloa.

The Guardian have a nice write up which hints as his tactical philosophy (https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/aug/21/saint-etienne-unshackled-from-lifeless-approach-by-oscar-garcia). Groomed in Spain, notably ex-Barcelona, the comparisons can be drawn between Oscar Garcia and former Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic – the inability to really hold down a position prior to ‘arriving’ at Fulham, the aesthetics of their footballing philosophy and even the clubs (both coached Watford, Maccabi Tel Aviv and both have success in the outer reaches of global football – Jokanovic in Thailand and Garcia in Austria).

Oscar Garcia would be fascinating appointment, and arguably a correct one for the footballing parallels this squad was built for and accustomed to. Though question marks will no doubt hover over the futures of the likes of Tom Cairney and Aleksander Mitrovic with relegation, there’s enough there to replicate that style by looking back to those that were part of the promotion squad.

Graham Potter:

Under the radar, Graham Potter is having a really excellent first season at Swansea where he has harnessed an excellent crop of young players to play some eye catching, tidy football in a mid-table season. Though finishing mid-table isn’t quite the most appealing characteristic, it’s about where their playing squad belongs at this point in their rebuild following relegation whilst 9 of their 13 most used footballers this season are aged 24 or younger.

The Swans didn’t even reach £10m spent in their first summer back in the Championship yet with Potter’s coaching and some smart recruitment, Swansea are set up for the future with their cavalcade of prospects (including Dan James who was subject of £12m interest of Leeds in January). Potter has taken a tough situation and Swansea are 100% in a better place now than where they were when he took over and that is always a good sign of excellent coaching, this amongst some chaos and confusion in the upper management.

Graham Potter is a modern footballing man and a ‘proper’ football coach. He wants his teams to play good football, is happy to work with young players but brings all the values you want in the current footballing climate. Whilst he may not be ‘keen’ on leaving a club that offered him such a great opportunity, a bigger budget and life in London could tempt him. I think Potter has shown he’s no fluke or novelty, he’s a bright, young coach who will be in the Premier League soon enough, it’d be nice if Fulham were that club.

Slavisa Jokanovic:

I won’t go on too long, but Slavisa Jokanovic was in the top 5 of Fulham Twitter’s picks to be the next permanent Fulham manager. After the Ranieri experiment, it seems supporters may be showing their fickle side and saying “oh, it wasn’t quite you.” I hated the sacking at the time but to go into that side is another post for another day.
?We know what we get from Slavisa Jokanovic teams, it’s passing, attacking football that saw us become one of the more entertaining, appealing and eye catching teams in recent Championship history. We saw improvement with each year despite the club forcing a rebuild level of player movement with each window and that’s promising.

I don’t see this happening, but I wouldn’t hate it.

Lee Johnson:
?Perhaps aided by the ‘Fulham’ connection, his father Gary (current manager of Torquay United), grew up in Fulham and is allegedly a Fulham supporter. This has probably led to Fulham eyes more so than usual but his success already in his career before the age of 40 is commendable.

Lee Johnson got his first managerial job at Oldham at the age of 31, his first season was amidst a successful relegation battle. In his first full season, he rebuilt the squad and took the club to their highest ever finish in League One. He left Oldham for Barnsley in February 2016 where he stayed for a year before moving to Bristol City. Like at Oldham, Johnson has taken Bristol City from relegation contenders to play off pushers and this is despite a fairly frequent turnaround of players (since taking charge, he’s had to deal with the losses of: Jonathan Kodjia, Tammy Abraham, Luke Freeman, Aden Flint, Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan).

Johnson’s team impressed at Craven Cottage in our promotion campaign, displaying high pressing and quick interplay were rewarded making a squad that would ultimately go down as one of the most entertaining in the division as very ordinary. We were naturally quite disappointed when later that season we went to Ashton Gate and Bristol City played long ball, long throw and ‘kick-em’ football but I believe that to be a tactical decision against us (which was odd given performance earlier in the season). Johnson has dealt with adversity, receiving death threats and calls for his resignation but has won the Bristol City supporters around after the board kept faith (importantly). Lee Johnson also has an EFL Cup run to his name, a semi final no less that was ended by Manchester City and were a 92nd minute Sergio Aguero goal from a draw at the Etihad and a 96th minute Kevin De Bruyne winner from a draw at Ashton Gate – along this run, Johnson’s side knocked out Watford, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.

In terms of availability, it’s easy to sit here and say “why wouldn’t he join Fulham?” But Johnson has been shown faith, they’ve let him work through hard periods and he knows he’s backed by wealthy investors in the football club (not near Shahid Khan’s billions but billions nonetheless). We chewed up and spat out the saviour to our time in the Championship because the players purchased for him were poor and didn’t fit – so why would Johnson leave his situation for this?

Johnson is an intriguing option, and according to my Twitter feedback, is the popular option. I wouldn’t be unhappy for sure, but whether he’s the best option? I would have some doubts. Though to be fair, there’s doubts for every manager – no one is truly ‘risk free’ – which is why you shouldn’t throw away a good one for a poor run of form…

Honourable mentions:

Daniel Stendel (Barnsley), Steve Clarke (Kilmarnock), Dean Smith (Aston Villa), Aitor Karanka (unattached), Carlos Carvalhal (unattached), Nathan Jones (Stoke City), David Wagner (unattached).

And a couple from me not mentioned by others: Alex Neil (Preston North End) and Michael Appleton (unattached).

Fulham have no identity.

When Fulham were promoted, it was with a reputation of swagger and of good football (proper football). They scored (and conceded) a lot of goals, were always entertaining and one of the best footballing sides to grace the second division of English football in a long time. There was a narrative that you can’t ‘play’ in the lower leagues; that it has to be rough and tumble and that group of players proved them wrong.

With today’s loss at Burnley, Fulham have won nine points from an available thirty and been knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking in an embarrassing loss at home to Oldham Athletic. A squad that was built (rather poorly) with Slavisa Jokanovic’s footballing style in mind became pointless once Tony Khan made the decision to sack and replace with the antithesis in terms of coaching philosophy in Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri’s Fulham has scored more than one goal just once in his first eleven matches (including League Two opposition) and have two clean sheets, that’s a bad recipe for success and it’s failure at both ends of the football pitch.

Despite having the likes of Tom Cairney, spending £30m on midfield conductor Jean Michel Seri and £20m on Alfie Mawson (who in 2017/18) was in the top 11 of centre backs for completed short passes (and also the top Englishman), possession based football was dead the moment the Ranieri appointment was made. We now have signings whose strong characteristics are to be wasted, Seri for example is a passer to the standard of Barcelona sniffing around for him a year previously is now put in a Ngolo Kante role of breaking up play. Fulham have been lucky to find that Calum Chambers, a ball playing central defender who put in some underwhelming performances at the back can be a productive defensive midfielder.

While Fulham have a pair of really good Championship full backs, it’s appeared early on that they may be just that. Though both Joe Bryan and Cyrus Christie are more suited to offensive responsibilities from the full back/wing back position than the team round defensive focus attempting to be instilled by Claudio Ranieri. We wasted a Premier League loan slot on Timothy Fosu-Mensah as he’s set to return to Manchester United and Tony Khan added no speed or athleticism in the final third for a Premier League that is notorious for the speed and power of the league.

A rant about the way the squad was assembled would need a post on its own, from the timing and urgency of players coming in, to the lack of investment in certain areas and considering the characteristics of top level Premier League football. The Khan’s were desperate for safety, and sadly it’s showing in the worst way. Another manager with circular glasses is tasked with taking a unbalanced squad currently unfit (in another way) for his style is facing relegation in the eyes and like a sad man desperate to get laid of Friday night, wrong decisions have been made and the club has the feeling of insecurity of a Saturday morning walk of shame.

Whether you liked Slavisa or not, whether you enjoyed possession based football or not, whether you hated seeing us concede goals with such ease in the Premier League or not, Fulham at least had an identity. This club was going to try and play football and every player knew their role; the youngsters that come through at Fulham are largely talented with the ball at their feet and that’s stressed upon. This is all at risk with the decisions being made and the sooner Fulham return to a plan, identity and quality in recruitment, the better. I don’t really care if that’s in the Premier League or not.