“I have to put this kid in the team.”
It took just a few minutes for Slaviša Jokanović to understand what he was seeing.
The Fulham boss had been unsure about including a fifteen-year-old in his pre-season training camp, but having been persuaded by a member of his coaching team, it did not take long to arrive at a conclusion. Ryan Sessegnon was the real deal.
As the curtain draws on a phenomenal debut year, those words are beginning to sound like an understatement.
Sessegnon made his debut for the club against Leyton Orient in the League Cup in August 2016, barely two months after his sixteenth birthday. He scored his first professional goal against Cardiff a few days later, the first player born in the 21st century to register in the professional leagues.
He has been tremendous all season, scoring a stunning brace in 3-1 victory over promotion-chasers Newcastle at St James’ Park on the way to becoming an undisputed starter.
It has been a rapid ascent. Joining Fulham shortly before his ninth birthday in 2008, Sessegnon was immediately singled out as a top prospect by the giddy academy coaches in West London.
After winning Player of the Tournament in the Premier League Under-16 Cup in 2015 (in which his brother Steven, a similarly talented youngster, was awarded best defender) he was drafted hastily into the Fulham Under 18s squad. His performances there alerted the first team staff, who suggested his inclusion in the senior team for the current season.
It is easy to understand the fuss. Sessegnon is a player beyond his years, superbly balanced with an accurate cross and devastating pace. Perhaps more impressive though is his defensive tenacity, the 16 year old robust in the challenge and able to hold his own in the notoriously-physical Championship.
Sessegnon comes across as a level-headed character, which is just as well given the hype around him has already started to build.
Having been snared as a Nike UK athlete before his GCSEs (a national school exam) ‘Sess’ was also named as the best 16 year old in Europe in February, polling above the likes of Martin Ødegaard and Tom Davies in the Gazzetta Dello Sport.
His teammate Stefan Johansen was similarly understated, suggesting that “it’s 99% certain he will be one of the best left backs in the world”.
All this for a boy who is still a pupil at Coombe’s Boys School just across the road from the Fulham training ground.
Still, his YouTube views continue to rack up, his six goals in 22 appearances lathering the big clubs into a frenzy. Liverpool, Tottenham and even Bayern Munich have tabled an interest in advance of a rumoured transfer tussle in the Summer.
“The opportunities I’ve had this season have been great. On a personal level I just want help the team gain promotion to the Premier League where we belong.”
They’re not far off it either, sitting just two points off the playoff places ahead of a crucial run-in in May.
Jokanović, who himself has been linked with a move away from Craven Cottage, will offer Sessegnon his first professional contract on his 17th birthday next month.
The news will be a relief to Fulham fans, who can rest assured that any transfer will imbue the club with a significant fee.
They’ll be hoping, however, that Sessegnon can prolong the inevitable and help them sustain a push for the Premier League. Either way, it seems he’ll be there soon enough.