With Ryan Sessegnon making 30 appearances for Fulham before turning 17, he is one of the country’s most sought after talents. But what is it that makes the left-back so special?
As part of our How To Find A Star series, former Tottenham head of elite potential identification David Webb explains why maturity and career-management can maximise potential…
Assessing young players can be tricky from a statistical point of view because the sheer volume of data available is significantly less. “When they are young, you are usually going to have a profile of the player that is obviously quite observation based,” says Webb.
Who is David Webb?
David Webb was Bournemouth’s head of first-team recruitment during their rise to the Premier League and most recently worked as Tottenham’s head of elite potential identification. He also has a Masters in Sports Psychology and the UEFA A Licence.
“So the data is quite limited to begin with. But when they are playing in the first team, the dataset really begins to build and you can identify progression too.” As a result, those players who make the breakthrough early are going to be of particular interest to scouts.
Comparisons can be drawn with top players. If he is doing at 16 what another did at 19 is there scope for even greater heights? In addition, the mere fact that a player breaks into the senior side at such a young age offers clues as to his mental as well as physical maturity.
Case Study: Ryan Sessegnon
Ryan Sessegnon was on the radar of some of England’s biggest clubs even before making his Fulham debut in August aged just 16. “He was highlighted very early even before he broke through into the first team,” says Webb. “You could see his potential.
“I did have a bit of insight when we started to profile the player at 14 for Tottenham as close sources were able to share valuable information on Ryan. What was good about him was that he played with maturity at such an early age. There was a lot of interest in him even when he was 14 but that did not affect his performances.
“He was always playing above his age too. If you are looking at a 15-year-old player, is he training with the Under-18 side? Has he maybe even worked with the Under-23 group? Ryan had that history. In fact, he was training with the first team at 15.”
Physical capability is particularly important for full-backs at a club like Tottenham as they provide the natural width. “A lot of Tottenham’s play is developed through the middle of the pitch so a player in the full-back position needs to have the athletic capacity to get up and down and provide the attaching outlet.
“There is a lot of work and a lot of strain on those players. That’s how Spurs play, whether it is with full-backs or wing-backs. Obviously, Sessegnon is still a young lad but even the number of games he has accumulated already indicates that he could potentially handle that.
“As he generates more game time, you can then make small comparisons to where a Danny Rose or a Ben Davies was at the same age. If you look at the profile of someone like Rose when Tottenham bought him from Leeds at 17 he needed quite a bit of time to develop into the player he is now. His full season on loan to Sunderland was pivotal to his development, playing a lot of minutes at Premier League level.”
The clarity of Sessegnon’s profile is his reward for taking a sensible career path. “He seems very level headed about looking for a move to a bigger club,” adds Webb. “He understands the importance of playing first-team football at Championship level.
“He could go to Manchester City and receive outstanding coaching and play UEFA under-19 or under-23 football the same as Patrick Roberts. Patrick is now starting to develop his potential and feeling the benefits of a season on loan at Celtic.
“But Ryan understands he could accumulate 80 games before turning 18, which means his market value will be at a premium. When clubs look to invest in him they will not be buying just potential but an established first-team player.”
For scouts, identifying future stars is not always easy. As Webb says, it’s about understanding your own club’s scouting methodology as each club will have a different process on how they identify talent.
Once the talent is targeted having the right due diligence along with a clear thought-out pathway is crucial for the player to make the transition from potential to the first team. At Tottenham, for example, there is a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who believes in potential and will give opportunities regardless of a player’s age.Soccer Accumulator Bonus
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