Sessegnon shows big improvement

This season has seen the Benin international settle into life in the north-east, proving himself to be the club's greatest attacking threat. By Joel Sked.

The arrival of Martin O'Neill to replace Steve Bruce at the start of December 2011 prompted an upturn in Sunderland's fortunes, and several players are reaping the benefits.

James McClean and Frazier Campbell are on international duty after being rewarded for their fine form in recent weeks but it is arguably Stephane Sessegnon who has shown the biggest improvement.

If O'Neill has been the catalyst for change as he bounds around the technical area, his energy and ideas have been transferred onto the pitch by the exciting Sessegnon.

Sessegnon arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in January 2011 for a fee of around GBP6 million, and was looking for a new challenge after falling out with coach Antoine Koumbouare.

This season has seen the Benin international settle in to life in the north-east, proving himself to be the club's greatest attacking threat. Leading the way in both goals and assists for the club, O'Neill has credited Sessegnon with igniting the club's floundering season.

“He gives us that little spark. He is unpredictable, he's always capable of doing something — taking on players, opening up gaps and creating. He's essential to us,” O'Neill said.

Before making his way to France to begin his career in Europe, Sessegnon spent a year with Requins de l'Atlantique in his native Benin after graduating from their youth system.

Just one season in their first team was all it took to convince French Ligue 2 side Creteil to take him to France. He played a decisive role in guiding the club to their highest ever position in his second season at the club, before making the natural progression and moving to Ligue 1 side Le Mans where he would spend a further two years before his move to French underachievers PSG.

It looked to be a shrewd move for the player as his performances in his first two seasons saw him attract the attention of bigger, more acclaimed clubs in European football such as Arsenal.

Offered freedom in a midfield role, Sessegnon was at the forefront of PSG's attacking play as the club had one of their most exciting seasons in recent times, challenging on three fronts.

Playing in the majority of the club's games, he proved that he had a substantial end-product, both in finishing and assisting. That would be the apex of his PSG career, though, as the next two seasons would be dominated by off-field issues despite playing a part in PSG's Coupe de France triumph in 2010.

A new contract to honour his importance to the team was the bone of contention in his second season, while in his third and final season with Les Parisiens a falling out with Koumbouare left him heading for the exit, with Sunderland taking advantage.

Under Bruce, Sessegnon was used as a versatile forward, positioned on the wing, in the middle, behind the striker or as a lone striker. Unsurprisingly he struggled for consistency as he was shunted from position to position, yet still excited fans as he was prone to flashes of brilliance.

But it has taken the appointment of O'Neill for Sessegnon to truly shine on a weekly basis. Positioned as a support striker, he is fundamental to O'Neill's counter-attacking unit. A rapid dribbler, he is equally adept at taking on defenders as pulling wide and playing team-mates in to dangerous areas.

His form has not stopped rumours of unhappiness due to his wife and five children still being in France and he has been linked with moves to Marseille and Arsenal, but O'Neill has understandably called for the player to make Sunderland his home.

If Sessegnon can settle in the area with his family by his side, his signing could prove to be one of the best pieces of business the club has made in recent times.

FACTFILE Name: Stephane Sessegnon Position: Forward Club: Sunderland D.O.B: 01/06/1984 Benin caps: 41 Benin goals: 8 Moment to remember

Playing the full 120 minutes in PSG's extra-time defeat of Monaco to win the Coupe de France in 2010.

Moment to forget

A last-minute sending-off against Monaco as PSG slumped to a two-goal defeat.

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