Date: 27th June 1984, Venue: Parc-des-Princes, Paris:
Michel Platini and Bruno Bellone score a goal apiece to give Les Blues their first major title with a win over their neighbors – the mighty La Furia Roja.
Little did Parisians know that, in the same month, approximately 2,900 miles away, in a small city of Benin, a footballer would be born who would eventually adorn the imposing number 10 worn by greats of their time and those of ours in the form of Rai, Okocha and Ronaldinho, while at Paris Saint-Germain.
Stéphane Sessègnon, the enigmatic Sunderland playmaker, was born in Allahe, 55 miles away from Cotonou – the economic capital of Benin. His beginnings were quite humble when it comes to the sport. A beginning that would be consistent with that of quite a few notable footballers from the continent.
Sessègnon, grew up playing barefoot in the streets and torn down pitches in Cotonou. He did not own a pair of boots until the age of 13, boots that he managed to purchase only after his team had won a citywide competition. Even then, they were useless, as at that time, one could feast their eyes to the lush rectangular patch of greenery only in the stadiums.
Eventually, the diminutive playmaker of 5’7, managed to grab the attention of scouts from France. His nimble foot dribbling capabilities along with a bottomless bag of trickeries earned him moves to US Creteil-Lusitanos, Le Mans eventually landing him at Paris Saint-Germain.
While at PSG, he gained popularity with the Parisian faithful, through his immeasurable skill on the ball. One that they would particularly be fond of would be against Lens in a League Cup final. The stage was set for those 7 seconds.
Three defenders are pursuing Sessègnon as he takes the ball towards the corner flag. He is brought down to the ground as he tries to keep the ball, but he gets back up, puts the ball between his feet and manages to bunny hop his way through the defenders while bemusing them. A dazzling piece of work from the talented midfielder.
In another instance, in a game against Sporting Lisbon, his dribble was too hot to handle for the defender that the latter ended up injuring himself. What was more astounding; the referee had given a foul against Sessègnon.
Since completing his £6 Million move to Sunderland in 2010, Sessègnon has made his presence felt among the faithful at the Stadium of Light. He is still in the process of adapting himself to the pace of EPL, but with three goals and three assists this season, he is definitely moving towards achieving the status of a great footballer, in the same way his African compatriots like Didier Drogba, Adebayor and the Toure brothers had done so.
But it is how his background relates to people all over the world, which is captivating. In fact his interview with UK based Daily Mail where he talks about his past, is worth mentioning.
[…..‘They (tricks) are part of my qualities as a player and it is always nice to give the supporters a spectacle. It’s not everything but it’s exciting.
‘Size isn’t everything so I have adapted my qualities. Only talent and hard work matter.
‘When I was growing up we played barefoot most of the time in the street near my home and a lot of the time we didn’t even have a ball so we would use a tin can which would hurt our feet. But that was where I learned to play.
‘I learned more from street football than I did in the football schools. That was all I wanted to do. Even when I was at school I played football more than I studied, but I just knew I was going to be a footballer.’….]
I know for one, a few of us could relate this to our backgrounds as we grew up playing on the streets without the concern of what we would eventually be stepping on. It’s personally satisfying to identify a thing or two in terms of similarities with footballers like Sessègnon.
With Sunderland currently sitting in 9th position just beneath Liverpool by a point, the team should and most probably would credit his contributions on the pitch. He, most likely, has caught the attention of scouts all throughout. Hence, It wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up playing for one of the big 5 in the EPL in the next season. And to those who are purely interested in gratifying their eyes to some beautiful football, watch Sessègnon play and you will be. I can assure you that.