Championship: Who is Ryan Sessegnon and what makes him so good?

JJ Bull
The Telegraph
Who is Ryan Sessegnon and what makes him so good?
Who is Ryan Sessegnon and what makes him so good?

Ryan Sessegnon is the first ever non-Premier League nominee of the PFA Young Player of the Year award, the Championship Player of the Season and the winner of Best Player and Best Young Player at the London Football Awards.

The England under-21 international has scored 14 goals in 43 Championship appearances, is being touted as a potential England World Cup wildcard call-up and is a key part of the Fulham side on the brink of return to the Premier League. All this from someone 17-years-old, who started the season as a left-back.

Not bad. So, what makes him so good?

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Pace

Sessegnon is absolutely rapid at full speed but it his ability to go from zero to a flat sprint in something like a half-second which makes him such a nightmare to defend against. Even if you know where's he going, it's very difficult to stop him going there.

When playing as a left-back he would occasionally be caught out of position high up the pitch but could make up for it by speeding back to make a recovery tackle. This isn't ideal and overrun by opposition attacking wingers, Slavisa Jokanovic realised Sessegnon suited a position further forward, making a season-changing decision to put him there. 

Sessegnon is equally as quick with the ball at his feet as he is without it, another of the reasons he has been compared in style to Gareth Bale. He is quick of mind too, figuring a way out of tight situations before the defender can get too close - and if he does, Sessegnon beats him for pace. 

For a 17-year-old he is remarkably strong, comfortably winning battles against older, sturdier Championship players while contesting 50/50s in wide areas. His balance and nimble, fleeting feet means he can twist and turn to win yards of space and keep passing moves going. In a chase, he usually comes out on top. Defenders Hate Him.

Tricky

"There was a cage right next to our house where we used to play from morning until night with big 11 vs 11 games," Sessegnon said in an interview with Telegraph Sport in March. "There were times where you couldn’t even see the street lights so you had to picture who was on your team. My team was always on the ball.

“There’s a lot of cages and five-a-side places in London. You see young people showing off their talents. First touch is important. That’s where you learn it, on the street.”

The tricks, balance, control and quickness of mind may have been honed in a small, enclosed area but Sessegnon takes that same style of play onto the full-sized pitch. Combined with his sense of movement and sheer quickness, he is rapidly developing into one of the best wide players in the country.

Sessegnon
Sessegnon

It's little bits like this that are particularly impressive. The defender can see exactly where the ball is and is ready to take Sessegnon out and teach him a thing or two about the Championship.

Sessegnon
Sessegnon

See ya! A little dink and Sessegnon rides the tackle, runs into space and whips a ball into the area. Any highlights video you can find of him on YouTube is filled with little touches that win him a half-yard of space before either making the pass or running past his man - nothing he does is unnecessarily flashy, it all serves a purpose; the kind of thing you learn in the highly competitive world of a South London cage!

Read of the game

Scoring 14 Championship goals from any position as a 17-year-old is impressive but it's remarkable that Sessegnon has managed it from the left wing. Some of his strikes are a result of dribbling inside the pitch:

Sessegnon movement
Sessegnon movement

And finishing from long range, like this one which nestles in the bottom corner:

Sessegnon finish
Sessegnon finish

But the majority of his goals are real poacher's efforts. Sessegnon prefers a more advanced role and in his (even) younger days, was a striker, something which helps explain how he always seems to end up in the right place at the right time.

Sessegnon positioning
Sessegnon positioning

This is just one example of many where Sessegnon starts from a wide left position. Here the striker tries a shot at goal from inside the box. Sessegnon has already started running to anticipate the second ball.

Sessegnon goal
Sessegnon goal

The defender is caught watching, the ball lands perfectly for Sessegnon's run and he buries the finish. This has happened time and time again, often with Sessegnon drifting into a central striker's position while Fulham have possession in the final third, allowing the left-back to take his role of wide creator in his place.

Physical attributes are part of what makes Sessegnon a good left winger, but it is because he plays the game in his head that he is so highly rated. A striker in his youth, then winger, then left-back, then winger, learning these different positions has helped him know when and where to he should be moving.

He anticipates things when defending too, always on his toes until there's an opportunity to steal the ball, at which point he snaps into action and makes the tackle. 

The way he works this little move is really simple and obvious but an example of accurate decision making and execution.

Sessegnon on the ball
Sessegnon on the ball

Sessegnon fires a pass into the player to his left and then bursts past his marker to receive the return.

Sessegnon runs
Sessegnon runs

The pass is tapped inside and Sessegnon sprints on to it. Now he has the choice of either darting wide left, where he usually goes to then hit a cross into the penalty area, or carry it inside. The best option is to attack the space in the centre of the pitch.

Sessegnon runs
Sessegnon runs

That's what he does. Sessegnon's excellent close control means when he dribbles at speed, defenders can't step out to tackle him as he can easily change direction and leave them looking foolish. Chasing players can't get close. He keeps his composure and plays in the striker to his left with a no-look, outside-of-boot pass.

This ability to read the game is something difficult if not impossible to coach but one inherent to Sessegnon's play. This season he has been getting lucky by product of the hardwork he puts in - meant as compliment, not criticism - but as opposition teams target him, inevitably he's had a bit of a cool-down on form recently, with two assists and zero goals in his last eight games.

It should be expected. It's Sessegnon's first full season, he's 17 and bound to be a little tired. Better, older players have struggled to escape the attentions of focused defensive marking in the past and the Championship is a notoriously demanding league.

It's worth putting things in context. This is a young player who has been named the best individual in the Championship as well as receiving a nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year against international superstars and were he to win, it would be fully deserved. If not, on the evidence we've seen, it will not be the last time he is held in such high regard come the end of a season.

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