Fulham’s precociously talented left-back Ryan Sessegnon is one of the hottest properties in world football. Highly respected Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport recently ranked him as the number one 16-year-old footballer in Europe. But Sessegnon’s present focus is identical to that of his teammates’ – to push Fulham into a play-off place as their season reaches its critical period.
Sessegnon has created a piece of Championship history already – his goal against Cardiff City back in August 2016 made him the first 2000-born scorer in English football’s second tier. The youngster has been used sparingly this season, as manager Slavisa Jokanovic gradually introduces him to the rigours of Championship football. Sessegnon has completed 90 minutes on 12 occasions, scoring four times in all competitions while also registering three assists.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte made a personal visit to Craven Cottage to see the Roehampton-born teenager in FA Cup action against Tottenham, and is believed to have liked what he saw. Sessegnon’s pace, prodigious skill and eye for a goal has made him a summer transfer target for Spurs and Arsenal too, but it’s believed that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are currently frontrunners for his signature.
Liverpool have played utility-man James Milner at left-back this season but have suffered a terrible run of form since the new year. The Reds have won just two of 12 games in 2017 and Klopp believes Sessegnon would star in Milner’s role, and could even be the next Gareth Bale. The England under-17 international is not able to sign a professional contract until he turns 17 in May, but he looks certain to leave the Championship side this summer, before potentially returning on loan to Craven Cottage next year.
After a run of four straight wins, Jokanovic’s side left Cardiff City on Saturday with a well-deserved point from a dramatic 2-2 draw. Unfortunately, Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon suffered a broken jaw in the first half and the injury will keep him out of action for the next two months. Should Fulham be involved in the postseason, there is a chance that the Brazilian winger could still play a part.
The West Londoners are currently five points adrift off sixth place in the Championship, but have a game in hand and a superior goal-difference to all but two clubs in the division. Should they beat Preston at Craven Cottage this coming Saturday, Fulham will be in prime position to overhaul Sheffield Wednesday who occupy the final play-off place at present. The games then come thick and fast in March. Leeds are the next visitors in midweek before a daunting trip to St James’ Park to take on table-toppers Newcastle just four days later.
Although there are still a dozen games left to play, automatic promotion is realistically well out of reach for the Whites. So Jokanovic is targeting the so-called ‘£200 million game’ – the play-off final match at Wembley on May 29 – as the ideal way to end their season. The Serbian manager’s philosophy and his slick-passing style of football has made a distinct impression on Fulham’s fortunes this year. But only time will tell whether he can guide the club back to the Premier League after a three-year absence.