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On This Day (1st June 1984): “God Took Messi & Pele...” - Happy birthday, Stephané Sessegnon!

Today we celebrate the birthday of a Sunderland cult hero - Beninese trickster Stephané Sessegnon!

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

From time to time, a player has joined Sunderland who possesses natural ability that causes fans to jump off their seats in excitement. With the change in our style of play this year, this has become a more frequent occurrence than ever before!

Reflecting back on the Sunderland squad during our most recent Premier League stint, the ability to take on an opponent, the swagger to drop the shoulder and rifle a shot in from 25 yards, or the confidence to play intricate passes in tight areas were not common attributes among the Sunderland players at that time.

The squad was primarily composed of experienced British footballers who were familiar with the league and managed to grind out enough results to stay afloat from one season to the next.

When Sunderland sold Darren Bent in the shocking January Transfer window of 2011, it created an enormous void, leaving manager Steve Bruce anxiously pondering who would assume the role of chief goalscorer and creator in his squad.

In an attempt to salvage a swiftly unravelling season, Bruce turned to PSG attacker Stephane Sessegnon as the man to rejuvenate a toothless attack. The Benin international joined the club in a £6 million deal, which surprised many considering his talent had led to speculation that he would join a bigger club, with Arsenal showing interest.

His signing was seen as a coup for the club, and much reliance was placed on his shoulders for the next two years.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Sunderland - Britannia Stadium Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, with the team struggling after Bent’s departure, Sessegnon found it difficult to settle into his new side. However, his first truly successful moment as a Sunderland player came on April 23, when he scored his inaugural goal for the club in a 4-2 win over Wigan Athletic. He converted a penalty he had earned himself in the 73rd minute.

Injuries were plaguing the Sunderland squad at the time, and with Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan also sidelined, Sessegnon ended up playing in an unfamiliar lone striker role for the remainder of the 2010-11 season. He scored again in a 3-0 victory against West Ham United.

The following two seasons were when the club began to witness some of his best football. Sessegnon thrived under Martin O’Neill, particularly after O’Neill’s arrival at the club in late 2011.

Sunderland enjoyed a fruitful run in the FA Cup, during which the Benin international scored a crucial goal against local rivals Middlesbrough. Additionally, his creativity played a vital role in the team’s standout performances, particularly against Manchester City, Liverpool, and QPR.

The only downside of his successful first season was his red card in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Sessegnon’s accomplishments led to him being awarded a new contract at the end of the 2011-12 season. Upon signing the new contract, his manager, O’Neill, urged him to replicate his previous season’s form.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Sunderland - Old Trafford Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

“I think he himself for the talent he possesses might think his goal ratio is not up there, but he is a quality player and he is hard to mark,” O’Neill said.

“He had a great period last season - like the rest of us, he maybe tailed off a little bit towards the end when the Premier League status had been achieved and he got a little bit tired.

“But he’s fresher now and I am delighted he is there and he is really necessary for us.”

Sessegnon’s form continued to be very impressive the following season, but inconsistencies continued to hamper him, much like the entire team. As Sunderland sleepwalked towards relegation, Ellis Short decided to fire O’Neill in a surprisingly successful move, replacing him with rookie manager Paolo Di Canio.

Di Canio’s eccentric ways endeared him to fans, but in reality, it was the performances of Sessegnon that kept the club afloat. He scored vital goals in the two wins under the Italian against Newcastle and Everton.

However, Di Canio’s confrontational approach had a detrimental impact on the team’s success, with many players disillusioned by his methods. Just a couple of games into the new season, rumors of Sessegnon’s discontent at the club began to surface, and Di Canio even stated that “he didn’t care” about the club.

In a move that caused great confusion, Sessegnon was sold to league rival West Bromwich Albion. In his first game for WBA, he scored against us in a 3-0 win, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many Sunderland fans.

Today, we wish a happy birthday to a player whose moments of brilliance saved us many times during our Premier League stint.

He turns 38 today and continues to play in Malta with Sirens Football Club.

Happy Birthday, Sess!


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