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Sessegnon on Shaw, Bale and switching positions

It is rare that a teenager plying his trade in the Football League can be deemed a 'sure thing' - a player so likely to make a splash at the very highest level, that the biggest clubs in Europe are already salivating at the prospect of securing the starlet's signature.

FourFourTwo is in a warehouse-turned-football-showroom to not only witness the launch of England's new kit for this summer's World Cup, but also to meet Ryan Sessegnon, a player who just so happens to match the above description.

Hordes of journalists and selfie-stick wielding YouTubers are hovering around Marcus Rashford, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Butland, but while all this madness is unfolding around him, Fulham's teenage sensation sits calmly on a stook in the corner of the room. He may not be able to keep such a low-profile for much longer. After making his debut as a 16 years and 83 days, he posted a further 29 first-team appearances, scoring seven goals from left-back and sealing a place in the Championship Team of the Year. These award winning performances came just two years after he had helped Coombe Boys to win the Playstation Schools' Cup.

If you thought that was pretty good, 2017-18 has been even better. Fulham manager Slaviska Jokanovic has transformed this trhreatening left-back into an even more threatening left winger, with Sessegnon hitting 12 league goals for the promotion-chasing Cottagers. There's still three months of the season to play. 

It’s not a bad resume for a humble London lad who is not even 18 until May. Scarier still, Ryan has a twin brother, Steven, who appeared alongside him for the first time in a Carabao Cup tie earlier this term. It’s time to find out what all the fuss is about… 

Who were your football idols when you were growing up?
I have always been an attacking left-back so I really admired Luke Shaw, particularly when he was at Southampton. He has a lot of attacking qualities and creates a lot of chances, which is something I like to do myself. His ability to get up and down the pitch is incredible.

Your cousin Stephane played for Sunderland and West Brom – was he an inspiration for you at that time?
He is definitely someone who I have looked up to. I wasn’t personally that close to him but my father is. I've seen him on TV a lot but he hasn’t chatted to me or given me advice or anything like that. If I can have the career he is, I won’t have done too badly!

Your brother also plays for Fulham’s academy. What was it like growing up and playing together?
We always played in the back garden together and shared the same dream of becoming a professional footballer. It was competitive at times because we both wanted to be the best but looking back I think that was a good thing. We support each other but we also push each other to be better. We’re quite relaxed and humble, but I think we keep each other in check as well; we won’t let each other get carried away – we know that success and hype can quickly disappear. 

What is it like having such a different job and life to your old school friends?
It’s very different, but I’ve been playing football all the way through school so I think we’ve all just got used to it now. I have managed to balance school and football pretty well, my parents really pushed me to do well in my education so I’ve always taken my studies seriously. My parents have guided me well. My favourite subject at school? Probably French - I really enjoyed it and can still speak a bit too.

What were your aims at the start of last season? Could you have imagined what was to come?
My aim was just to be a bit-part player and get a few games under my belt, but since I made my debut [against Leyon Orient in the League Cup in August 2016] I have been in the team a lot. I’m just thankful the manager has given me this chance.

Did it feel like a big step up from academy to Championship level?
I honestly haven’t felt that, I think the physical demands of the Championship are pretty similar to what they were in the under-23s, so I’ve been able to adapt pretty smoothly. It hasn’t felt like a big shock to the system.

Did your manager give you any advice before your debut?
Not really, he just treated me like any other first team player. One of the other senior players, Scott Parker, was very good with me, he just told me to relax as much as possible and to make sure that I enjoyed it – and I did.

Some of England's biggest names have fallen short when it comes to transferring their stellar club form to the international stage in big tournaments. The good news is that Sessegnon doesn't seem to have noticed. He has looked as snug as a bug in his country’s colours so far – and not just during his chat with FFT, when he is modelling the new Nike jersey the senior side will wear at this summer's World Cup in Russia. 

In 2016, he was promoted to the Three Lions’ under-17 team a year ahead of schedule so he could play in the European Championships, in Azerbaijan, where he featured alongside the likes of Chelsea's Dujon Sterling and Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson. They were knocked out by eventual finalists Spain in the last-16, but the experience was not lost on the youngest member of the squad.

Having played in every game of that tournament, he was then named in the Three Lions’ 18-man squad for the under-19 side’s Euro 2017 campaign last summer. He scored three goals, two of them coming against Germany in the quarter-finals, as England went on to win the competition. The only player in any of the squads to have a 21-st century birthdate finished as thejoint-top scoreer and named in team of the tournament.

However, all of this success came as no surprise to Fulham fans - nor Championship defenders - and Sessegnon’s summer showings prompted Cottagers manager Jokanovic to back his young star to make England’s senior side in the not-too-distant future. So how much longer will it be before Ryan is banging down Gareth Southgate’s door? And what was the secret to the success of England’s youth teams last summer?

You have played regularly for England at youth level, but what are your earliest memories of watching the senior team?
I just about remember watching the World Cup in 2006. That was a good England team - I always admired Steven Gerrard because of his leadership skills. 

You won the Under-17 European Championships last summer – what was that experience like?
It was great. I think 2017 was a great year for England’s young teams. Winning the competition in Georgia was a huge achievement. I think there has always been talented players in England but for whatever reason we haven’t had success in major tournaments – maybe that will change now.

Do you think England are now producing a new breed of players? Did you play cage football growing up?
I played a lot of street football and cage football from a young age and that really helped me to hone my skills. Playing Five-a-side in tight areas really helps you. The once you’re on an 11-a-side pitch the game becomes easier because you have bigger spaces to play in.

How important is it for young players to play tournament football?
I think it helps you a lot. Winning these tournaments and beating big teams is invaluable experience. Learning to deal with the pressure of playing in tournaments is great for the future, because now I have already been there and done it. There is massive pressure at those tournaments - if you get beaten at a World Cup, people will remember it, and you have to wait another four years to correct it.  With your club, you often have two games a week, so you can quickly put things right.

What were your highlights of the tournament?
That would have to be the two goals I scored in the 4-1 win over Germany. That win put Germany out of the competition, which gave our team a lot of belief because they are always such a strong opponent. 

What was it like being away from home for so long?
I think I’m quite used to it now. It’s not the first time I’ve been abroad to play in that kind of tournament, and it was the same for most of my team-mates, too. I think we all adapted well to that; we were professional, mature and it paid off.

Who should we look out for in that England team?
The team is really packed with talent, but if I had to pick a few, I would say Mason Mount and Trevoh Chalobah from Chelsea – they are both really talented players. There are a lot of quality players in that team with big futures, though.  

How did you celebrate that World Cup victory?
Straight after the final we went out to eat as a team, but I didn’t do anything particularly special with my family and friends when I returned. We did the celebrating with the team, which was great.

Our time with the Wandsworth wonderkid is almost up, but his time is just beginning. Last summer he was linked with a £25 million move to Manchester United, as well as moves to Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool before he inked a new three-year deal with Fulham in June. “I made my mind up to stay months before I signed the contract,” he tells FFT. “I knew I would play more games here than elsewhere, which is important at my age to keep developing.”

Twelve years ago, Gareth Bale excelled in the English second tier for Southampton as a 17-year-old attacking left-back before being turned into a winger following his move to Tottenham. Unsurprisngly, Sessegnon has been likened to Real Madrid's galactico, but what does he think of the comparison? “It is flattering but it is still too early to be compared to someone so great,” he admits. As for his best position, he is still undecided. “I’ve enjoyed playing as a winger because I can impact the game more in terms of goals and assists,” he adds. “But it’s good to be versatile - I’m happy in either role.”

Ryan Sessegnon has already compiled a splendid highlights reel. If he keeps adding to it, that hefty £50m fee could be irrelevant. He may be terrorising the top-flight this time next season with Fulham, an idea that should be enough to give Premier League defenders sleepless nights.

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