“He’s one of our own!” A song I’ve never really taken to as the meaning of it is so misleading. It’s become the new trend for fans to sing it loud and proud from the stands, with every club desperate for academy products to come through so that they can jump on the bandwagon. But the reality is, unless they are Fulham at heart, been brought up a Fulham supporter and live and breathe for the club in the same way that you and I do, then they are just players who came through our academy and will go onto play for other clubs, sometimes at the earliest opportunity.
Ryan’s Fulham career has been nothing short of phenomenal considering his age. At 16 he launched himself into the history books on his home debut, scoring after just 3 minutes of being on the pitch against Cardiff City, becoming the clubs youngest goal scorer. Fast forward to the back end of 2018 and he was at it again, breaking Collins John’s record as our youngest Premier League scorer too. His journey in a Fulham shirt has turned heads from some of Europe’s biggest clubs as the wonder kid from Roehampton has remained on the tips of neutral fans tongues across the country, performing with ease at Championship level. Just like Sean Davis, Sess will go down as a special part of our history for helping the club to win promotion back to the Premier League, as his Fulham career climaxed with the equalizing goal in the playoffs vs Derby, followed by that genius through ball for Cairney at Wembley.
I have always envisaged a young man who had the potential to go onto break Johnny Haynes’ appearance record. After all, it’s not often that a 19-year-old makes over 100 appearances in the first team and, controversially, I never believed Ryan had the talent required to outgrow us as a club, therefore, hoping he would remain with us for a very long time. Other than his composure in front of goal, his overall game to me isn’t as good as everyone has made out and, at Premier League level, I think that was exposed albeit in very difficult circumstances. But Ryan seems to fit with Fulham in the same way that Mark Noble fits with West Ham or James Ward-Prowse fits with Southampton. It’s hard to imagine them playing for somebody else.
Sadly, football leaves no room for such sentiment in the modern game and if rumours are to be believed, it appears Ryan is pushing for a move to Spurs, exactly like Sean Davis did. If that’s the case then I feel he has chosen a path that he will live to regret from a footballing point of view. He is still very young and needs game time to develop into the player every one assumes he will become but, like many youngsters, he risks falling into the trap of being the next teenage sensation to fall off the radar. Spurs are Champions League finalists and a club with a brand new stadium whose fans will be expecting to use their recent success in Europe as a platform to become London’s top club long term. Their fans have had a high standard set for them and won’t be as patient as Fulham fans are with Ryan when the going gets tough. They are a club where performances like those of Ryan this season will fall very short of the mark and he’ll find himself at auction over loan moves every summer. After all, with the impact of Ryan Babel in the latter stages of last season, Sessegnon wasn’t even a nailed on certainty to start for Fulham’s worst Premier League side in history. So I find it very difficult to see how he transitions into a player who can influence that of Champions League finalists.
From Ryan’s perspective, maybe this is a now or never moment. Careers are short-lived and this is an opportunity to sign a lucrative long term contract with a big club that will set him and his family up for life. An opportunity that will quickly diminish if he repeats his performances from last season if he stays with us in the Championship. From that point of view, who can blame him? But in my opinion, we don’t owe Ryan anything and we certainly don’t owe him this move. Jack Grealish, as irritating as he is, showed loyalty to Aston Villa when they missed out to us last summer. Yet at the first crossroads in his Fulham career, it seems no such commitment will be shown by “one of our own”. Fulham are the club that has coached him from the age of 8 and that gave him an extremely rare opportunity to play in the first team at just 16. A club whose fans have always sung his name and made him feel very loved and appreciated. So whilst Ryan has done a lot for Fulham, let’s not forget that Fulham has done an awful lot more for Ryan. And whilst he has to do what’s best for him and his career, likewise, Fulham have to do what’s best for them.
That’s where our owner’s come into the mix. Love it or hate it, an owner’s job is to think with their business head when it comes to transfers. They can’t be influenced by sentiment in the same way us fans are. They have a responsibility to look after the finances and welfare of the club, to ensure Fulham don’t spend beyond their means. After all, nobody wants the club to go down the route of Pompey a few years back or be in Bolton’s shoes now. We have witnessed the club spend £100m on crap, if we are brutally honest, highlighting at alarming levels that you don’t have to stretch yourselves too thin to guarantee success. It can backfire very quickly and the answer certainly shouldn’t be splashing another 60 million willy nilly just because Mr Khan is a billionaire. It’ll catch up with us eventually, especially with FFP.
Fortunately, despite relegation, the club are in a much better position than they found themselves in the last time we were relegated. We have three-quarters of a squad ready-made for the Championship, most of which have last year’s experience of promotion under their belt. I see it that we only need to add 5 or 6 good players to strengthen as opposed to a complete overhaul and rebuild of the entire club. We also have assets in our current squad who we can sell in order to buy the additions we need. Other than Seri, the obvious three were Cairney, Mitrović and Sessegnon going into the summer break, before TC signed a new contract. Hand on heart, of those three, Ryan is the easiest to replace because there are better players out there at this stage of his development. We could sign a 26-year-old to do what Ryan offers for a quarter of the price and sign the other players required with the change. In contrast, there’s no guarantee that you can replace TC or Mitro as they are the best in their position at Championship level. So, even by throwing money at it, you still can’t guarantee players will be willing to drop a division to sign for a Championship club. We were extremely lucky to find that gem in Mitro the first time around.
We are in a position where selling both Seri and Ryan if possible and for the right price, allows the club to build a very strong Championship side plus afford to give Mitro a new contract without spending ludicrous amounts of cash. The team would benefit much more from having multiple quality players rather than keeping a potentially top drawer player for sentimental value. I wish Ryan Sessegnon every bit of success going forward if indeed he does leave. His time in the first team has been special, both on and off the pitch, with the chemistry he has built with the fans and I’m very proud that someone who conducts himself so well has come through our academy. He’s a credit to Huw Jennings and all the fine work our academy staff do. I hope my views aren’t seen as negative, after all, I have claimed that I felt Ryan had the potential to catch Johnny Haynes’ record but no such romantic story exists any more. So as one moves on, another bright talent comes through at 16 in Harvey Elliott and that is the revolving door standard that our academy has created and needs to try and maintain going forward.
To quote the famous opening line in the ‘We’re not Real Madrid’ song from our beloved former Chairman; “life is about choices” and if this is the choice Ryan Sessegnon has made. Providing Fulham get £25 million, I predict it’s a decision that Fulham will gain a lot more from than either Spurs or Ryan will.
Good luck Ryan, thank you for so many special memories and I wish you all the best.