Three weeks before Ryan Sessegnon starred in the stylish start to Tottenham’s new campaign, he was in Seoul explaining why he was sure this season would be different.
Sessegnon told how he strengthened his body over the summer, particularly around his hamstrings in a determined effort to end the muscle injuries that have frustrated his progress at Spurs.
He knew that Antonio Conte had signed Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan with a view to installing him at left-back.
Ryan Sessegnon scored Tottenham’s first goal against Southampton after thriving at the back
Loris 6; Romero 6.5, Dier 7.5, Davies 7 (Lenglet 86min); Royal 7 (Doherty 87), Hojbjerg 6.5, Bentancur 7 (Bissouma 86), Sessegnon 8 (Perisic 66, 6); Kulusevski 7.5 (Moura 86), Kane 6, Son 6. Scorers: Sessegnon 21, Dier 31, Salisu 61 (og), Kulusevski 63. Aware: Sessegnon, Bentancur, Bissouma. Coach: Antonio Conte 7.
Bazunu 5.5; Valery 6 (Stephens 46, 6), Bednarek 6, Salisu 5; Walker-Peters 6 (Redmond 90) Ward-Prowse 6.5, Lavia 6.5, Romeu 6 (Diallo 75.5), Djenepo 6 (Perraud 72.5); Aribo 6, A Armstrong 5 (S Armstrong 46, 5). Goalscorer: Ward-Prowse 12. Warned: None. Trainer: Ralph Hasenhuttl 5.5.
Arbitrator: Andre Marriner 6.5. Presence: 61,732.
It meant fierce competition as Conte trusts experience, but Sessegnon is committed to learning from the 33-year-old Croatia international, promising to tap into his vast knowledge for support and guidance.
On Saturday, he proved he was serious about what he said in South Korea, and early signs of his relationship with Perisic are encouraging.
“He’s a great player who has won a lot of titles,” said Sessegnon, after scoring Tottenham’s first goal of the season in the 4-1 win over Southampton.
“He is also a great person who has already helped me a lot. Even the goal, he told me to go to the far post and score. Before the warm-up he came to me and told me that Kyle Walker-Peters was pretty short, so if the ball goes into the back post, make sure you’re there to direct it.
Beyond the goal, which lifted Spurs’ level, he caused plenty of problems for the Saints by raiding space behind Walker-Peters.
When Perisic came on as a substitute in the 66th minute, the home crowd rose to cheer from the pitch.
It really felt like a fresh start for Sessegnon, three years on from his £15m move from Fulham, where he scored 15 goals as a full-back or wide forward in their 2017-18 promotion campaign.
His pace and eye for goal won him the Championship Player of the Year award and he became the first second-tier player nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year, won by Leroy Sane. He was a star of the England Under-21 team and is high on those popular online lists of football’s hottest talents and ‘next big things’.
The long-awaited move to Spurs came in 2019, as the club went from five years of stability under Mauricio Pochettino to a turbulent whirlwind.
It was a bad time, and Sessegnon disappeared on loan at Hoffenheim in Germany as Jose Mourinho splashed out £28million on Sergio Reguilon, now ruled out by Conte.
Boss Antonio Conte opted for England left-back over new summer signing Ivan Perisic
It wasn’t until the second half of last season that he enjoyed another run in the team, but that didn’t stop Conte from making Perisic a priority signing.
More than three years after his transfer, the 22-year-old still has more Premier League appearances and goals for Fulham than for Tottenham.
“Since signing, it’s the first time I’ve had a real pre-season under my belt without a problem,” Sessegnon said.
“So that probably made a difference for me today, and I just want to keep going.” Every game, you have to treat it like it’s your last, and that’s what I try to do. Wingers are vital to Conte’s system. They must clock up the miles raiding the flanks and are as influential in attack as they are important in defense.
Wingers have been a fundamental part of Conte’s system at Spurs, Chelsea and Inter Milan
The Italian had molded Victor Moses into the role at Chelsea. He did the same for Antonio Candreva and Perisic at Inter. He develops effective wingers if they are willing to listen, learn and give in to his barrage of instructions.
England manager Gareth Southgate could be tempted to call Sessegnon at left-back
Emerson Royal is improving on the right, developing an understanding with Dejan Kulusevski.
On the left, Sessegnon has the intelligence to realize that he is in good hands without taking the lead.
During that conversation in Seoul, where Tottenham spent a week training and playing two friendlies, he was asked about using the World Cup as motivation.
Eric Dier, also among the Spurs scorers on Saturday, made no secret of his desire to impress England boss Gareth Southgate at the start of the season.
Sessegnon, uncapped at senior level, said he hadn’t thought about it but Southgate, playing the same system as Conte at Spurs, doesn’t have a wealth of natural options on the left side.
but Southgate, playing the same system as Conte at Spurs, lacks a wealth of natural left-sided options.
Last season, with Ben Chilwell injured and Luke Shaw out of favor, the England boss opted for a left-footed right foot. Turn this flurry of shapes into something more, however, and Sessegnon will provide it with food for thought. Just as he has Perisic for competition at Spurs, Chilwell has Marc Cucurella, the £62million signing from Chelsea.