Benjamin Sesko is the physical ‘freak’ wanted by Arsenal – and now he faces England

Slovenia's Benjamin Sesko/Benjamin Sesko is the physical 'freak' wanted by Arsenal – and now he faces England
Benjamin Sesko stands at 6ft 5in and was once clocked running at 22.5mph - Shutterstock/Mohamed Messara

It is not unusual, in the wild world of youth recruitment, for top clubs to be sent videos of talented young players in action. It is a global game, after all, and scouts cannot be everywhere.

There was something very different, though, about the clip which landed in the inbox of Red Bull Salzburg’s recruitment team around seven years ago. For a start, it was just 15 seconds long. Even more strikingly, it was not filmed on a football pitch. In fact, it did not feature a football at all.

Instead, the video showed a gangly teenager from Slovenia on a basketball court. Benjamin Sesko was only 14 when it was filmed, but the clip provided a startling demonstration of his freakish physical prowess. In slow motion, the footage shows Sesko leaping towards the backboard and dislodging a ball from the rim of the net. Not with a hand, but with a foot. (watch video below)

It is an astonishing feat of athleticism and power, and Salzburg’s scouts took note. How could they not? When he was 16, Sesko moved from Slovenia to the Austrian club. His representative later joked that Sesko was the only player he ever sold based on a basketball video.

This remarkable physicality, combined with frightening pace and deadly finishing, has helped to make Sesko one of Europe’s most exciting young forwards. It speaks volumes of his talent that Arsenal were ready to pay more than £50 million for his services this summer, and that Chelsea were interested, too.

As England prepare to face Slovenia in their final group game of Euro 2024, Gareth Southgate will know that Sesko — now of German side RB Leipzig — poses the biggest threat. Sesko stands at 6ft 5in and was once clocked running at 22.5mph. A man that big really should not be able to move that fast, or, indeed, jump as high as he does.

Benjamin Sesko is not a player easily pushed off the ball
Benjamin Sesko is not a player easily pushed off the ball - AFP/Miguel Medina

Even at the age of seven, Sesko was larger and quicker than the rest. “It was obvious he was a talent,” says Jernej Čeh, Sesko’s first coach at Slovenian club Radece. “He was big for his age, which was his main strength, but he was also fast and powerful. He has exceptional athletic abilities.”

Radece is a small town in eastern Slovenia, with a population of 2,000. It is not the most likely birthplace of a footballing phenomenon, although Sesko was fortunate to grow up around the sport: his father, Ales, was a good goalkeeper.

59 goals in 23 games for youth side Krsko

Ales initially wanted his son to play in the same position but Sesko’s taste for goalscoring soon became obvious. Crucially, he also had a passion for hard work. Čeh recalls young Benjamin turning up at the club outside of training sessions, pleading for an opportunity to join in with older children or asking if he could use the basketball court.

Sesko quickly outgrew Radece but he remains enormously popular in his home town. He has not forgotten his roots. “He is a big star and at the same time he remains grounded,” Čeh says. “During the winter break, he trained with our club’s players. He recently visited a primary school where he attended and signed autographs and played football with the children.”

When he was 15, Sesko struck 59 goals in just 23 games for the youth team of Slovenian side Krsko. He was also a regular for Slovenia’s junior sides, scoring eight goals in 10 matches for the under-15 and under-16s.

By this point, football had become the priority. In another life, Sesko might well have pursued a career in basketball. He still plays regularly , and he believes the sport has helped him to become the player he is today, especially with regard to his explosive jumping ability. “If he played basketball, he would have been great,” Čeh says.

The youngest goalscorer in Slovenia’s history

After joining Salzburg at 16, Sesko’s rise through the professional ranks has been slick. He struck 21 goals in 29 games on loan at FC Liefering, before scoring 16 in 30 Austrian Bundesliga games for Salzburg in 2022/23.

From there, he took the much-travelled road from Salzburg to Leipzig. Last season, his first in the Bundesliga, he scored 14 times — including seven in his last seven games. In a major European league, he showed himself to be quick, strong, powerful in the air, composed and two-footed.

Arsenal had seen enough and had hopes of signing Sesko this summer, before he chose to prioritise his development by staying at Leipzig. It would not be a surprise if Arsenal, and other Premier League clubs, tried again next year.

On the international stage, Sesko is both the youngest player and the youngest goalscorer in Slovenia’s history. He is yet to score at Euro 2024 but came agonisingly close against Denmark, when he produced two scorching shots from range. Those efforts should serve as a warning to England, who must be wary of a player who can jump extraordinarily high and is aiming even higher.