Stephane Sessegnon is Benin’s national team captain
Also the country’s all-time leading scorer and most capped player
Now 36, he is still bringing his skills to bear for the Squirrels
Good things come to those who wait, as Stephane Sessegnon can vouch for.
During the course of an international career stretching back over 15 years, the Benin midfielder has given his all in an effort to take the Squirrels to the top. The legendary skipper was finally rewarded for his dedication at last year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations, when Benin went further than they have ever gone before.
“It’s the highlight of my career so far,” the man himself told FIFA.com. “We had a great run to the quarter-finals and beat Morocco on the way, but what also stood out for me was the joy and the emotions we shared with our people. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. We’d like nothing more than to do it all over again soon.”
That run to the last eight was quite an achievement for the Squirrels, who have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ and were making only their fourth appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations, having failed to progress beyond the first round before.
The first of those appearances came in 2004, when Sessegnon was starting out on an international career that has seen him become Benin’s all-time top scorer with 24 goals and most capped player with 84 caps. In the process, he has become something of a national idol.
“No, I don’t deserve a statue,” he joked. “The huge recognition I get from the people of Benin is enough for me. They value me for who I am and that is very fulfilling. I try to repay them in my own way. They give me their unconditional support and in return I give all I can whenever the national team comes calling.”
The reciprocal arrangement looks set to keep on running. Despite turning 36 on 1 June, Sessegnon is keen for the love affair to continue.
“The motivation and the desire to do the job I love are still there,” he explained. “I’ll keep on playing and making myself available for the national team as long as I feel I’m still at the top of my game.”
Given his performances this season in the Turkish top flight with Genclerbirligi, where he is an undisputed first choice, Sessegnon will not be calling it a day any time soon. His recent form with Benin has also been impressive, not least in their historic win over a strong Morocco side in the last 16 of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, a game that ended with him being named man of the match.
“That’s honestly not what stands out for me from that game,” he said modestly of his superb performance. “Any player in the team would have deserved to win the award that day.”
It is no surprise that Sessegnon should put the team first. After all, that is the way he performs on the pitch, as the selfless playmaker he has always been. And then there is the fact that Benin have spent the last few years focusing on the collective and not the individual, which he believes has been key to their recent improvement.
“Everyone is pulling in the same direction, from the Ministry of Sport and the president of the national association to the players and the coaching staff,” said the man from the town of Allahe. “You can see the development for yourself, the desire to do things right and a willingness to support us on our way up to the top. There’s a positive spiral and we need to keep on working. The future should be good for us.”
Benin’s immediate future involves the second round of the African qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, where they have been drawn into what looks to be a wide-open Group J with Congo DR, Tanzania and Madagascar.
“Every single team in Africa has improved and it’s a lot more even than before,” said Sessegnon. “We’re neither favourites nor outsiders. We’re just going to give it all we’ve got and we’ve got just as much chance as everyone else.”
Rounding off our chat, the midfielder added: “The World Cup is a dream for Benin. As for me, I just focus on objectives, and the first one is to show the younger players the way and to help my country move forward.”