Ryan Sessegnon laughed and shook his head in reflection when it was put to him that a season which began with being substituted against Norwich could end with promotion to the Premier League and a place in England’s World Cup squad.
The 17-year-old is moving forward in every sense of the word: graduating from left-back to left-wing, helping Fulham climb the Championship table with the play-offs a minimum aspiration and producing performances that fuel talk of a big money move this summer.
Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United are monitoring Sessegnon as is Gareth Southgate over the possibility of becoming the latest in a list of long wildcards to travel to a major tournament with England.
Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic yesterday backed Sessegnon’s potential inclusion for the finals in Russia and the player himself seemed unfazed by the prospect. “Who knows? Theo Walcott did it, Michael Owen did it so I could be ready,” he told Standard Sport.
If I don’t, I’ll be cheering them on the TV hoping they do well. It is nice for the gaffer to say that about me. Who knows? Hopefully it will happen.”
Like Sessegnon, Walcott had not played a Premier League game when Sven-Goran Eriksson named him in his squad for the 2006 World Cup. In fact, Walcott had only started 13 senior matches in his career by that point and, in contrast, Sessegnon has had relatively much more exposure having already made 67 appearances for Fulham. With the club pushing form promotion, he has scored 13 goals this season and eight since New Year’s Day as he benefits from playing in a more advanced position but, perhaps more significantly, Sessegnon was part of the England Under 19 squad which won that age group’s European Championships last summer.
He was the competition’s joint top scorer with three goals and could soon find himself at the vanguard of trying to replicate the remarkable success England have enjoyed at youth level with the senior side.
“2017 was a great year for England’s youth age groups,” said Sessegnon. “To win that Under-19s Euros does give you that confidence and knowing how to win a major tournament. If I was to get the call for Russia, I’d know something about tournament football and people say that has often been England’s problem.
“It is at a lower level but the experience of coming through a tournament successfully can only be a good thing if I get the chance to go up the age groups.”
Sessegnon was speaking at last night’s London Football Awards, where his fine form was recognised with the EFL Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year gongs. He became the first player in the awards’ history to win two prizes on the same night but there seems little chance of such individual success distracting him for a longer-term aim.
“I have good people around me,” he said. “It is important to have good family and friends around me. As a young player, I have always been very focused and driven. When success does come my way I don’t get too overly hyped or enjoy it too much. I want to move on and improve and keep getting better.
“There have been moments that have taken a while to process. When I got my hat-trick at Sheffield United [in November 2017], it didn’t sink in until a few days later when people told me I was the second youngest to score a hat-trick at 17, after Dele Alli.
“But establishing myself is the most important thing right now. It is nice to receive awards like this because it shows I am on the right track but I’ve still got a long way to go.”
He continues along that path under the weight of comparisons with Gareth Bale, who made the same positional progression, albeit at an older age, and went on to become, for a time, the most expensive player in world football when leaving Tottenham for Real Madrid in 2013.
“When I was younger, I looked at Luke Shaw and Gareth Bale as attacking left-backs,” he said.
“It is a bit too soon to compare me but it is good to be likened to someone like Gareth. If I can get to have the career he has had would be fantastic.”