(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
By Chris Dunlavy
FOR Ryan Sessegnon, Fulham’s scout-baiting wonderkid, decision-time is hurtling over the horizon.
Stay at Craven Cottage and develop in peace? Or accept an offer from a Premier League behemoth and risk a splinter-ridden backside?
On paper, it seems obvious. From John Bostock to Nick Powell, we can all think of talented teens whose burgeoning careers foundered on the rocky shores of fame and fortune.
If the Championship’s most adventurous left-back is good enough at 17, he’ll be even better in two years. Where’s the harm in staying put? If you’re feeling adventurous why not log in to fruitykings.co.uk to check out their brilliant mobile slots.
Yet, for every Powell and Bostock, there’s a Ryan Mason. This time three years ago, the midfielder had just signed a five-year deal with Spurs and donned his first cap for England. At 23, the North Londoner must have thought he had all the time – and security – in the world.
As we now know, he did not. A clash of heads with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill in January 2017 fractured Mason’s skull. Last week, on doctors’ orders, he retired from football.
This summer, the 26-year-old will watch pals like Dele Alli and Harry Kane play in a World Cup that he might have graced – while working out what to do with the rest of his life.
Sad as Mason’s tale may be, he is incredibly fortunate. He played in the Premier League. He got that one big deal. The contract signed in 2015 was worth almost £10m and – in all likelihood – was paid up in full when he made a £13m switch to Hull 18 months later.
Chuck in a signing-on bonus at the KC, plus an insurance payout and you’re almost certainly looking at a multi-millionaire.
Others aren’t so lucky. Adrian Doherty wasn’t just in the Class of 92. He was head boy. Better than Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and the rest.
“He could go past people at will,” recalled Ryan Giggs in Forever Young, Oliver Kay’s terrific tome on the ‘lost genius’ of Old Trafford.
“He could ride tackles like you wouldn’t believe. He could go inside, outside, play one-twos, pass and move. You know in The Matrix, where everything clicks together, where it’s all happening quickly, but in the character’s head it’s slow motion? It was a bit like that with Doc.”
Brendan Rodgers, a childhood friend, likened the guitar-wielding Northern Irishman to George Best.
Yet today nobody remembers Doherty. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. On the eve of his United debut, aged just 17, the winger’s knee gave way during a reserve game against Carlisle.
Doherty spent seven months out with a ruptured cruciate, then suffered an identical injury on his return. This time, there would be no way back, his propulsive pace and passerine turns replaced by slow, agonising arcs.
Giggs and Co conquered Europe, bought Bentleys and married pop stars. Doherty scraped a living in a Preston chocolate factory, then moved to The Hague where he worked in furniture removals. There, for reasons that remain unclear, he fell into a canal and died, aged just 27.
Extreme though Doherty’s case may be, it is an example of how quickly a seemingly infallible talent can crumble to dust.
Even today, in an era when medical advances have made injuries like Doherty’s eminently treatable, Mason’s shattered skull proves the worst can still happen.
So, while the purist in me would like to see Sessegnon stay at Fulham and flourish, we should never be too harsh on a young player who seizes the chance to cash in.
Because, like everyone else who steps on to a football pitch, the 17-year-old is only one slip, one collision, one slice of rank bad luck away from becoming a hard-up has-been.