Ryan Sessegnon interview: ‘I tried to emulate Gareth Bale from television’

·5-min read
Ryan Sessegnon - Ryan Sessegnon interview: ‘I tried to emulate Gareth Bale from television’ - GETTY IMAGES
Ryan Sessegnon - Ryan Sessegnon interview: ‘I tried to emulate Gareth Bale from television’ - GETTY IMAGES

It was in a football cage in Roehampton where Ryan Sessegnon dreamt of emulating Gareth Bale, having watched on television as the then Tottenham wide man took on Inter Milan’s defence single-handedly at White Hart Lane.

Bale’s goals went around the world, with Sessegnon playing until dusk with his twin brother Steven as he tried to power past his opponents.

Antonio Conte was in Italy coaching Siena and saw the impact of a player starting at full-back against one of the best teams in his country.

Almost 12 years later and wing-backs are one of the key positions in the system Conte honed at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter, with Sessegnon now one of the players he is relying on to defend and attack in equal measure.

Sessegnon did not get to play with his hero two seasons ago when Bale returned to the club, as he was on loan at Hoffenheim, but the Wales international has left his imprint on the 22-year-old.

“He was just so energetic,” said Sessegnon. “Powerful, pacy. I remember the Champions League game for Spurs against Inter Milan. When he scored two in one game and a hat-trick. I always watched those video clips and tried to emulate my game on what he was doing.

“We lived in Roehampton. There was a little cage right next to where we lived. Me and Steven were there every day after school, even before school as well. It was a concrete pitch so you couldn’t do too much on it. But we always had a ball with us. Other kids from the area would come and we would play until it was dark and you couldn’t see each other on the pitch, because there were no street lights.”

While Sessegnon was a teenage prodigy at Fulham, making his debut at 16, his route to be part of Conte’s plans has been circuitous, via the Bundesliga and this summer a boot camp in Portugal, before pre-season to bulk up his frame and get him ready for a tour to South Korea that had players vomiting after sessions.

“It was more injury prevention, being able to cope with the demands of pre-season, which I knew was going to be tough, and getting a bit bigger in gym, building my legs, and stamina-wise doing a lot of runs,” Sessegnon said.

“I was doing everything I could. ice baths, massage, that kind of stuff, high-protein diet, eggs, chicken, drinking a lot of water. It was very hot where I was doing my work in Portugal.”

The result was a place in Conte’s starting line-up last weekend against Southampton, where he scored at the back post. With Ivan Perisic returning from injury, it gives the Spurs manager competition in his key area.

Sessegnon’s celebration after scoring on the opening weekend of the season was a trip to watch rapper Travis Scott at the O2 Arena, then it was back to the hard work. “It had been a while. I hadn’t scored for a long time. That feeling of arriving in the box at just the right time is a priceless feeling,” he said.

Ryan Sessegnon - Ryan Sessegnon: I tried to emulate Gareth Bale from television
Ryan Sessegnon - Ryan Sessegnon: I tried to emulate Gareth Bale from television

The importance of the wing-back will be shown on Sunday when Spurs take on Chelsea, with Sessegnon in line to face his old friend Reece James, who he has known from England youth teams and playing against him.

“It’s probably one of the hardest positions in the team at the moment,” said Sessegnon. “The manager wants you to contribute going forward, but obviously defensively as well, so you have to have that engine to go up and down. That’s one of my strong suits, but it can always be improved. I’m trying to get even fitter all the time.

“It will be a good match-up against Reece. I know him very well, as well. He’s a great player. More often than not the battles on Sunday on my side will be against him. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play against him and we’re confident.

“We played together for England in the youth age groups, we won the Under-19 Championships as well and we’ve been playing against each other since I was nine, when he was at Chelsea and I was at Fulham. You have to say he’s come out on top. Their academy back then was ridiculous, they won every trophy possible back then. But those times he was more of a midfielder and then recently got moved to a right-back.”

It will also be a gauge of the progress made by Spurs since last season, when they lost 3-0 and 2-0, before staging their surge towards the Champions League places in the second half of the campaign. “It will be a good test for us to see how far we’ve come from last season, we were disappointed to lose the three games against them last season. We’re going up against a good team, but we’re a good team as well. We’ll be going there to win the game and then we can see what the gap is between us,” Sessegnon said.

While Perisic provides competition for Sessegnon, he also wants to learn from the World Cup finalist and Champions League winner.

“I had a different attitude. I never saw the [competition] situation like that. I saw it as a chance for me to improve and get help from him. Now he’s in the team and I know him a little bit, he’s helped me straightaway, in pre-season. He’s a good guy. He’s been helping me a lot. It’s just healthy competition,” he said.