The Sessegnon Quandary

Robert Cianflone

After fresh reports over the weekend suggested that Stephane Sessegnon was close to joining a side in the footballing hotbed of Qatar, there was a meltdown by many Sunderland fans. And it is just not justified.

There is no doubting he has, from time to time, had some superb games for Sunderland. He can do things that other players could not even dream of. But far too often the moments of magic are accompanied with a shot into row Z or a cross that goes out for a throw-in.

This is ultimately where my reasoning comes from. I would rather have a player less aesthetically pleasing and that contributes more where it matters. He is a good player but not a top player - and I don’t think he ever has been.

Sessegnon’s position within the team is as a 2nd striker. Some will label him as an attacking midfielder but he plays far more advanced than that. For a 2nd striker that has such an advanced role his shooting is absolutely atrocious. If you subscribe to the advanced midfielder mentality then his passing leaves an awful lot to be desired.

What are you left with? A striker that cannot shoot or an attacking midfielder that cannot shoot or pass. Let me clarify the passing situation. He is hardly a David Silva or Santi Cazorla, is he? Can you remember many occasions where he has cut open a defence with a deft pass or superb vision?

What Sessegnon is, is a very talented dribbler and winner of free-kicks. When he does get on the ball, runs at players, takes them on and beats them then the Stadium of Light gets excited, and having been subjected to mostly watching dross for the last 3 seasons or so it is understandable why he is a popular lad amongst our support.

He has been a glimmer of hope and enjoyment in what has otherwise been an extremely trying time. However, him leaving Sunderland (or the prospect of) should be met with us thanking him for his finer moments but also with excitement at the chance to improve the team.

At 29 years’ of age Sessegnon is entering the last stage of his career at which he can command a useful fee. From now on his worth in the transfer market drops dramatically. From a club’s point of view they can keep him and his top earner salary or cash in on the Qatari millions and reinvest it on an improvement.

Ideally we would keep him and also replace him in the side which would add strength in depth. The problem is that I am not Ed Miliband and I realise that money doesn't grow on trees. The Sunderland coffers are not infinite and the books need to be balanced.

I know my opinion on this matter is always met with the ‘who can we get that is better?’ question but that is not really for me to say. We have a proper scouting network and Director of Football now that know markets and players that most normal people didn’t even realise existed. I’m convinced that we can do better.

Another response I encounter is that ‘on his day he is a match winner’. Well yes, I should hope so given the money he is paid and the position he plays. Also, is that any different to somebody like Adel Taarabt? He is another player that is sublime one minute and then has long periods of anonymity. There is no doubting I would rather have Sessegnon than Taarabt. It is not even a contest, of course, but it does highlight the type of player that he is.

If we sell then De Fanti is charged with finding a player capable of scoring more than 1 goal every 5 games (Sessegnon has 17 in 85 in the Premier League and his assist ratio is slightly worse.) Imagine that you open a newspaper or website tomorrow morning and read that we are interested in signing a new forward player to play as 2nd striker.

You then look on Wikipedia as you have probably never heard of him given how this summer is going and see that he averages 1 goal every 5 games. Then you read he is going to become one of the highest earners at the club. What is your initial reaction? Surely we can do better? Not what is needed? I don’t think many would be waxing lyrical anyway.

Even if he was not directly replaced then I can see Fletcher slotting into the position and succeeding. He has played there previously, his build up play is strong and he has a desire to get into the box and score goals. His finishing is sublime.

The most important aspect of that last part is the desire to get into the box and score goals. You need it in that position, you need that instinct and I just do not think Sessegnon has it, has ever had it or ever will have it. Playing Fletcher there in turn takes the goalscoring burden away from Altidore as he is very likely to score more than Sessegnon will. We have options.

I have read that part of the problem behind Sessegnon’s lack of consistency is because he is one or two steps ahead of the other players in our side. I cannot buy into that. Whilst playing for PSG, a pretty big fish in a pretty small pond, his stats were even worse than at Sunderland although he did play in a wide position more frequently. The closest Sessegnon has come to forging any kind of partnership with another player at Sunderland was with Bendtner.

Can his most ardent fans honestly say that he links well with any other players and has an understanding? We would be very fortunate to ever have a Quinn/Phillips combo again but surely there are players out there that can forge an understanding with players like Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher?

My final point is that I do not believe he is entirely happy at Sunderland. He has made noises this summer that he is enjoying himself but that has been countered with links to clubs in footballing backwaters that would offer nothing more than one final payday (China and Qatar). There are people working on his behalf trying to find him a lucrative escape route, of that I am absolutely certain.

So, should he stay then we have a good player that can excite us from time to time and offers an extra option, but should he go I will thank him for the moments of genuine quality, the goal at the Wongadome, and adding some excitement over the 2 and a half seasons that he has been here.

I will also eagerly anticipate seeing how we progress as a side without his mercurial talent.


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