He looked smart in a PSG jogging suit, and spoke religiously about his first child Stephane Sessegnon in the lounge of a modest three-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a public housing facility in Cocody, Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. Nothing, from Stephane’s debut to his recent troubles at Paris Saint Germain, has escaped the 50-something-year-old dad – Alain P. Sessegnon.
Goal.com: You are a Physics and Chemistry teacher, why did you allow your son Stephane to abandon his studies for football?
Alain Sessegnon: I didn’t push him out of school. He chose to play football and was so determined that I had to let him go do what he loved best. Stephane wasn’t a dullard at school. He was as brilliant in his studies as he was in soccer, but as an educator, I quickly realised the boy had more penchant for football because he was spending more time out playing the game than studying his notebooks.
Goal.com: What profession were you wishing him to exercise when he was growing up? Perhaps medicine, like Drogba’s parents wanted for Didier?
Sessegnon: No! I wanted Stephane to study banking and finance to become a big banker in one of these international financial institutions. But when I realised he was losing interest in school and playing more of soccer, I decided to inculcate more discipline in him so he wouldn’t turn out to be a ruffian. I brought him to my room, and we were sleeping in the same bed for four years, so I could monitor him more. But one morning, at 4am, Stephane woke me up and said: “Papa, I no longer want to go to school. I want to play football full time. I want to play at a football academy.”
I asked him to show me the academy which he did. It was a small youth academy in Cocody (Abidjan). I paid his fees and he started training there. I warned him I would continue monitoring his steps and that we’d still be sleeping in the same bed, he said OK. I’d wake him up by 5am to go and work out before going for training. He was around 12 or 13 then.
Goal.com: Stephane left Cote D’Ivoire for Benin because he couldn’t find a place in the Ivorian national team. Now he’s a Beninese, how do you feel about that?
Sessegnon: No, no, no! It’s wrong information the media has been diffusing. Stephane didn’t go to Benin because he had no chance of playing here (Cote D’Ivoire). He was born in Benin Republic at Allahé. During my school days, we used to go on international excursions, and that was how I met his mother in Benin. She was an Ivorian living there. She delivered Stephane there, but he later joined me in Abidjan at the age of four.
He returned to Benin very young at age 14. He didn’t play for any professional club in Cote D’Ivoire or at any level of the national junior teams. He was playing at Cocody Football Club (a local youth club) when he was selected as the most valuable player during a youth tournament for excellence. The president of Benin’s Requins de l'Atlantique picked him and two other players to Benin after discussing with me. When he left I was always praying to God to see him play in Europe one day.
Goal.com: Now he plays in Europe, how do you feel watching him on TV play and score goals?
Sessegnon: Ecstasy! When his club has a match I suspend all my schedules to sit at home and watch him play. I still see the image of that skinny little boy who used to run out very early in the morning to go and play football and come back with injuries all over his body because he was playing with bigger boys. I would treat him and wash his dirty jaysees. I try to compare those scenes to what I see of him now on TV.
Goal.com: Stephane recently encountered some problems at his former PSG club. Did he call you to get advice during the crisis or were you the one calling to comfort him?
Sessegnon: Stephane always calls me when he faces any problem in his career, and I always give his counsels, which he always heeds. He had the same problem when he wanted to leave Le Mans for PSG. He used to call me for help and I would pray hard. Finally I told him: “Son, don’t worry, you’ll leave for PSG in a week’s time,” and it happened. Now at PSG, Stephane called me to say his coach Antoine Kombouaré insulted him severely during a training session, and they both fell out. I know my son, he’s a very respectful person, but don’t dig into his pride or he’ll reiterate.
I feel Kombouaré used some hurting words on him that was why the boy fell out with him. You have to know the kind of person the coach is to judge him. He’s a coach who always gets red and yellow cards at the touch line. That can explain his nature and temperament better, and how far he went with my son in the locker room.
However, I told Stephane to return to training after his 18-day boycott, because to me, it will show his respectful side. But he kept telling me: “Papa, I don’t want to play at PSG anymore. I want to leave.” I told he would leave the club in a week after he returned to training, and he obeyed. I went to church to pray hard. I’m a friend of the Holy Sacrament of the Catholic Church, whenever we have problems we pray to Jesus Christ for solutions.
I later spoke with Stephane’s agent, but when I called PSG President Robin Leproux he didn’t pick it. I left a vocal message imploring him not to frustrate my son more. Stephane kept calling me as the transfer window was closing, I assured him to relax that his days at PSG were numbered. Exactly one week from time, I watch on the news that he had signed for Sunderland, and I went to thank the Lord.
Goal.com: But why England, no other clubs from France came after him?
Sessegnon: No, not that. He and I had agreed that his next move would be to the Premier League. He consults me all the time and we plan together.
Goal.com: Do you think his presence will help the club and bring something new to the league?
Sessegnon: Why not? Stephane is a very talented boy. They used to call him “Rotten Diego” (meaning he was a wasting Diego Maradona).
Goal.com: In a recent interview, PSG coach Kombouaré labelled your son’s behaviour to him as extremely grave. Is that the real image of your son?
Sessegnon: No! Stephane is very respectful. I used tough discipline to bring him up. Imagine, when he comes home on holidays he still sleeps in the same bed with me. He respects elders. When he was younger and began to smoke cigarettes, I stopped him and warned it would destroy his future career. He never did it again. Kombouaré said something hurting to that boy, which resulted in their quarrel. Stephane didn’t explain the details to me though.
Goal.com: What does he discuss mostly with you about his career?
Sessegnon: Look, I must be honest to you; Stephane contacts me often only when he has problems. When the ride is smooth, he doesn’t bother me.
Goal.com: But is that a good attitude from a son?
Sessegnon: Well (grimace), I don’t know but that’s him. When all is well I don’t matter much, but when it’s rough over there he calls me all the time. However, I keep praying for him. Our prayer group here prays for him too all the time.
Goal.com: Your son is a rich boy; you should be one as well?
Sessegnon: What?! You can see for yourself, is this the typical lounge of a rich man? Did I come to pick you up with a car? I don’t even have one neither a house of my own.
Sessegnon: When you see him, ask him that.
Goal.com: Do you have other sons who are as well talented and aspire to play professional football?
Sessegnon: They are many. My nephews and cousins. You can come and scout for them and take them away.
Goal.com: What would you tell parents who still hindered their kids from playing football.
Sessegnon: College is not the only route to life’s success. If the kid is skillful give him the chance to try.