Gareth Southgate announces his World Cup squad tomorrow and there are unlikely to be any major surprises. Jonjo Shelvey has perhaps forced himself into contention and of the four options in goal either Nick Pope or Joe Hart will be left behind. One potential wildcard to consider is Ryan Sessegnon, the teenage Fulham prospect and Championship Player of the Year.
England have a shortage of genuine left-footed options to choose from and Sessegnon can play as either a full back or winger. Despite his tender years, he is the undoubted star of an entertaining Fulham side that have just reached the Championship play-off final. After a quiet couple of games, Sessegnon popped up to score the goal that got them back on track against Derby County last night, lashing home from close range.
Quick, direct and confident, he's scored 16 goals and set up seven more despite spending much of the season at left back. Sessegnon hasn't played in the top flight but deserves consideration on current form and is destined for the very top, one way or the other. Comfortable receiving the ball in tight situations, and able to glide past players at will, he’s unlikely to be fazed by the big occasion.
At international level, Sessegnon has regularly played above his age group and never looked out of place. Last summer he was the youngest member of the England squad that won the European Under-19 Championship in Georgia but already had more first team experience for his club than any of his teammates. Sessegnon scored three times to finish as joint-top scorer and was also named in the team of the tournament.
It's 1-1 on aggregate in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg.
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What started as a slightly outlandish suggestion that he should be taken to the World Cup no longer looks quite so absurd. Sessegnon was integral to the remarkable run of form that took Fulham from the bottom half of the table to the brink of automatic promotion and England have few direct challengers for his preferred left wing position. The youngster’s versatility would also be in his favour.
When pointing out why Sessegnon won’t be selected, many will suggest that Southgate is risk-averse and unwilling to make big decisions. But he isn’t exactly the meek character he’s often made out to be. Southgate has made some bold calls as England manager – from ending Wayne Rooney’s decorated international career to leaving Theo Walcott out in the cold. Still, this might prove a step too far.
Few managers would be willing to take a 17-year-old, untested at the top level, to football’s grandest stage. In fact, Sven-Goran Eriksson was the last to do so with England, as he selected Walcott for the 2006 World Cup. Although he made his debut in a warm-up friendly against Hungary, he wasn’t used at all in the tournament. As Michael Owen succumbed to injury and Wayne Rooney was sent off, the decision was made to look particularly foolhardy as he remained on the bench.
In a 23-man squad there tends to be room for one gamble, and Sessegnon should be it. He would be the most speculative of wildcard selections, and it’s doubtful that Southgate would ever take the plunge, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen. Fortune favours the bold, and this is potentially the sort of chance England should be taking if they are to elevate an ordinary squad beyond its inherent limitations.