Ryan Sessegnon is talkin’ about his generation. And what a generation they could turn out to be.
‘Everyone plays free, they play freely with no pressure. That is what makes us. We play with no fear.’
Those words could be a fitting mantra for an emerging cohort of brilliant English footballers. The children of the Millennium, you could describe them as; the players born within a few months of each other in 1999 and 2000.
Ryan Sessegnon (left) in action for Hoffenheim, where he is spending the season on loan
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho decided the 20-year-old would benefit from game time and so sanctioned the loan move to the Bundesliga side last summer
England under-21 international Sessegnon is part of a talented generation in this country
Chelsea’s Mason Mount was born in January 1999, Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund in March 2000 and Phil Foden a couple of months after that.
Slightly younger are Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, born in September 2001 and Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood in October 2001.
Nestled amongst them – born May 18, 2000 – is Sessegnon. Listening to the youngster chatting way for half-an-hour, it’s easy to forget that he doesn’t turn 21 until May.
Having first burst onto the scene at Fulham aged just 16, a lightning-quick left-back-cum-winger who ripped up the Championship in their 2017-18 promotion season, he commanded a £25m price tag when Tottenham signed him in August 2019. That Spurs team had just reached the Champions League final.
So you feel Sessegnon has done much in the game already. But also because of his maturity, not least when asking serious questions of the social media platforms who allow vile individuals to racially abuse him from behind a screen of anonymity.
Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund is the poster boy for the new English generation
Phil Foden (left) and Mason Greenwood are giving optimism England can conquer the world
Sessegnon hopes to join them in the England team sooner rather than later but will have to nail down the left-back or left wing-back spot at Tottenham upon his return
Sessegnon is currently with the Bundesliga club Hoffenheim, spending the season on loan from Spurs. Jose Mourinho felt he should get more game time and so Sessegnon followed the trend of English tyros heading over to Germany.
It’s going well. Two goals and two assists in 16 matches in the Bundesliga and UEFA Europa League returned Sessegnon to fine fettle before he picked up a knock and missed a few games. Mourinho sends messages of support regularly. He’s back in training and should return to action soon.
He aspires to return to Tottenham and nail down the left-back spot next season before eventually joining Sancho, Mount, Foden and Saka in an England team that may have what it takes to conquer the world.
‘Jose’s main message was for me to go and play games – that’s exactly what he told me,’ Sessegnon said.
Sessegnon celebrates scoring against Borussia Monchengladbach back in December
He scored two goals and contributed two assists in 16 appearances before picking up a knock
‘He saw it as a good opportunity for me to go out and just play, play, play, bring back that experience and then hopefully I’m ready for when I come back.
‘When I came to Spurs, I was injured after the [Under-21] Euros and it was quite a serious one. It was all rehab for me and I didn’t really train with the team that much.
‘I was still trying to build a relationship with [Mauricio] Pochettino. I came back to fitness, went away with the under-21s and then heard he got sacked. I was like ‘wow’.
‘I came back to a manager of Jose’s stature coming in. I was shocked but then excited to work under him. When I came back I was just trying to do everything to impress and see what he saw in me.
‘It was a difficult first few months, not being selected, but I kept going and tried to stay patient.
Sessegnon pictured playing for Spurs in a pre-season friendly before his loan to Germany
Mourinho remains in regular contact and congratulates Sessegnon when he performs well
‘He’s been in contact since I’ve been here, of course. When I scored my first goal he was in contact to congratulate me. Just here and there he drops me a little message to see how I’m doing. I sent him a birthday message the other day.’
Life in Germany seems good despite the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sessegnon lives in a quiet spot by the river with his girlfriend. He’s even picked up a few words of German though English is widely spoken at the club.
It was his close friend Sancho – Hoffenheim face Dortmund this Saturday – who passed on a tip about asking the coaching staff for a one-on-one in English after team summits in German to ensure instructions filtered through.
‘I know Jadon very well and we have played in England youth squads since the under-16s together,’ Sessegnon said. ‘We keep in contact all the time.
‘He has tried to help me in terms of the German culture and the language barrier. Initially when I was in team meeting it was in German so I asked how he coped with the meetings.
Sessegnon was signed by Mauricio Pochettino but he was replaced by Mourinho not long after
His breakthrough performances for Fulham meant he commanded a £25m fee as a teenager
‘He said that he has a one-on-one with the coach after the meetings, so that’s what I started to do. I started to speak with the assistant coach after the meeting to pick his brain about stuff I didn’t understand.’
But as the likes of Sancho, Mount, Foden and Saka make more and more of an impression on Gareth Southgate’s England team, what is it that makes them so special?
‘This generation, the guys born from 1999 onwards, the way they play… I played in the cages with my twin brother every single day, playing with the ball, having fun, playing five-a-side, street football,’ Sessegnon said.
‘I would definitely say that helped me, I’d say it definitely helped Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho as well. This generation is definitely special.
Sessegnon was outstanding during Fulham’s promotion campaign to the top-flight in 2017-18
He ripped up the Championship as effectively a left-sided forward during a breakthrough year
It culminated in Fulham beating Aston Villa in the play-off final to reach the Premier League
Fulham didn’t last long in the Premier League but Sessegnon still managed to catch the eye
Having already accomplished so much at a young age, Sessegnon now wants to kick on
‘All these guys, they’re playing with no fear. Go out and do what you’ve got to do.’
Hoffenheim need Sessegnon to hit the ground running when he returns to the side. They’re nearer to the relegation places than the top six as it stands and a top half finish is the minimum expectation.
They’re set to take on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s old club Molde in the last-32 of the UEFA Europa League and hope to progress far in that competition as well.
But it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing for Sessegnon. In November, he courageously shared screenshots of disgusting racist messages sent over Instagram in which he was called a ‘slave’ and a ‘f****** n*****.’
The 20-year-old was called a ‘f***ing n*****’ and a ‘slave’ in a direct message on Instagram
Hoffenheim players showed their support for team-mate Ryan Sessegnon after the incident
He received support from Spurs and Hoffenheim afterwards but the number of black footballers sharing the abuse they receive seems to increase with every passing week and still social media sites have done little to combat it.
‘I couldn’t believe what I was reading to be honest,’ Sessegnon recalls. ‘I didn’t think two ways about it, I just thought I had to publish and share it to show the world what is still going on, which is obviously unbelievable and not right.
‘I had to make a stand and a public profile of it so we can spread awareness of the situation.
‘There are two many people just hiding behind these accounts trying to spread all this negativity and racism. I think people need to ID themselves, there should be a system put in place.’
Watch multiple live matches from the Bundesliga every week, exclusively live on BT Sport including Borussia Dortmund v Hoffenheim on BT Sport 2 on Saturday 13 February from 2.30pm.