Ryan Sessegnon’s first Bundesliga start didn’t go according to plan, as Hoffenheim conceded two late goals in a 3-1 home defeat to Union Berlin back in November.
But worse was to come for the Tottenham Hotspur loanee. On the team bus after the match, Sessegnon took out his phone to be confronted with a barrage of racist abuse on his Instagram account.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” he tells DW. “I didn’t think two ways about it, I just thought I had to publish it. I had to share it to show the world what’s still going on right now, which is unbelievable. It’s not right. I had to make a stand and a public profile of it so we can spread awareness about the situation.”
Just four weeks after arriving in south-west Germany, Sessegnon had become the latest victim of racist abuse which continues to plague the footballing world. Fortunately, the left-back was able to count on support from both Hoffenheim and Tottenham.
“Hoffenheim helped me a lot, they publicized the situation on their media platforms to spread awareness as well,” he says. “There was a game where we scored a goal and the members of the team raised their arm up for me, which I thought was great, a nice touch. They didn’t have to do that.
“Tottenham helped me as well. A lot of people got in contact with me for interviews, asking if I wanted to speak about it, if I was comfortable, which I thought was nice.”
‘Why? Just why?’
What exact measures social media sites could be taking to combat this kind of abhorrent behavior is currently the subject of much debate. Sessegnon himself has called for the introduction of an identification system when setting up accounts.
“I think people need to ID themselves. There are too many people just hiding behind these accounts trying to spread all this negativity and racism in the air, which is not good. There should be a system put in place. It’s not acceptable. We need to be stronger about it, and of course there is change happening. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
When asked what he would say if he was presented with the opportunity to confront his abusers, Sessegnon’s response was clear:
“Just one word: ‘Why?’ And I’d just want to hear their answer to be honest. Just ‘why?’ I would be so intrigued to hear what they’ve got to say.”
Settling into life in Hoffenheim
Despite the appalling off-the-pitch experience after the Union Berlin game, Sessegnon insists he’s enjoying his loan spell in rural Baden-Württemberg.
With two goals and two assists in 11 Bundesliga appearances, he was becoming a regular starter, and was named Hoffenheim’s player of the month in November. Unfortunately, a persistent thigh injury has kept him out of action since January but he’s hoping to be fit for Thursday’s trip to Spain to face Norwegian side Molde in the Europa League.
“I’ve settled in well, I like where I’m living at the moment, it’s a nice, peaceful area by the river,” Sessegnon says. “I like to take a walk down by the river, there’s a lot of peaceful things here – the trees, the snow, everything. I like the way it’s just calm here, that’s just how I am. I’m a kind of quiet person off the pitch, I keep myself to myself.”
Nevertheless, Sessegnon, like everyone else, has been affected by the logistical difficulties of the current pandemic.
“My family haven’t been able to come out and visit me but my girlfriend is here. If I were here by myself, I think I would have lost my mind a long time ago to be honest with you.”
‘Don’t be afraid!’
The 20-year-old remains hopeful about his future with Tottenham – despite only making limited first-team appearances since his £25 million ($34.77m) move from Fulham in August 2019.
“Obviously, my aim is to go back to Spurs and try to break into that team. But if that’s not going to be possible next season or in the future, of course I want to go back to a league or a club to gain experience and when the time is right to go back, we will see from there.
“I would say to any young player to go and try it out. Try a different culture, a different league, a different language and don’t be afraid because it is a great opportunity! You will come back a different person and a better player.”
Sessegnon says he keeps in touch with Spurs manager Jose Mourinho back in London.
“His main message [to me] was for me to go and play games. He saw it as a good opportunity for me to go out and just play, play, play, bring that experience back and then hopefully I’m ready for when I come back.”
For now, though, Sessegnon’s immediate focus is in Hoffenheim. Next up is a trip to Spain to face Norwegian club Molde in the last-32 of the Europa League on Thursday.