LONDON, May 26 (Reuters) - Appropriately it was teenager Ryan Sessegnon’s astute pass that paved the way for Fulham to reach the Premier League promised land with a Championship playoff win on Saturday.
The 18-year-old has earned rave reviews for his performances this season, with speculation rife about which top-flight side would secure his signature in the close season.
But after Fulham’s 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley he can grace the Premier League in a white Fulham shirt next season after all — thanks to the minimum 160 million pounds ($212.91 million) windfall the club can now look forward to.
Defeat would have put huge pressure on Fulham to sell the left back, who scored 16 Championship goals this season.
The west London side’s triumph has changed everything.
Sessegnon and Tom Cairney, who scored the winner, will still be targeted over the coming months but Fulham, and billionaire owner Shahid Khan, have the financial muscle to resist overtures for a player many felt deserved an England World Cup call-up.
Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who also took Watford into the Premier League, could also find himself a target after taking the Londoners up playing stylish football.
The Serbian will expect some funds to strengthen the squad in the close season — as well as keeping the club’s best players like Sessegnon and 27-year-old Cairney.
“This is a really important victory for us. We deserved it. It’s not easy to play at Wembley, there is a lot of pressure,” said Jokanovic. “We know what is ahead of us.
“The Premier League is the best and most competitive league, and we must be clever.
“One important improvement is now finished, and now we must show ambition to be a Premier League team.”
Jokanovic was full of praise for captain Cairney who has been playing for much of the season with a knee injury.
“The last two years Cairney has been fantastic,” he said.
“The beginning of the season we had to find a solution for his knee problem, but when he came back he played like we remember last season.
“Today he was crucial, he’s captain of the team. He showed the quality and personality to bring the team to the Premier League, and he’s an important player for us.”
While Fulham look ahead to a return to the top flight after a four-year absence, Steve Bruce’s Villa side are condemned to a third year of second-tier football.
“It’s been difficult this season financially, so we understand. We’ve been saying that for the last 12 months,” the experienced Bruce said. “The decisions have got to be had above me to say what we’ve got and what we haven’t got.
“Defeat is difficult. We’ve come close this year and we’ll try again.”
Whether or not 37-year-old former Chelsea and England skipper John Terry and highly-rated midfielder Jack Grealish, 22, remain at Villa Park is another matter.
“Of course there will be speculation about Jack. Personally, I would like him to stay. Another year with us would do him the world of good,” Bruce said.
“We’d love to have given him the platform of the Premier League and we haven’t, but he’s playing regular football week in and week out. We’ll see what happens.”
$1 = 0.7515 pounds Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris