After a rocky first few years, Franck Kessié has emerged as AC Milan’s dependable and all-round midfielder. It is no coincidence that this has brought their change in fortunes.
AC Milan suffered a fall from grace both domestically and continentally over the last decade.
The UEFA Champions League has had a Milan-sized hole in the competition for the past seven years. However, Rossoneri faithful can finally rejoice as Milan has qualified for next season’s Champions League.
A long rebuild that included the club being sold twice, multiple finishes outside of the top six, and a laundry list of different managers at the helm is finally over. Milan have made multiple great signings over the past few years that have pushed them over the line. Defensive stalwart Simon Kjaer, midfield dynamo Ismael Bennacer, the free-scoring Theo Hernandez at left-back, and the return of the ageless wonder Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Just a few of the shrewd purchases over the past two years.
However, Milan’s best player this season is arguably their midfield rock; Franck Kessié.
Early days for Franck Kessié
Franck Kessié, 24, was brought in on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy from Atalanta. At the time the Ivorian was a 20-year-old hot prospect with a lot of raw talent. Raw talent notwithstanding, Kessié quickly had his doubters.
The midfielder tried to grow into his role in his early time at the club. The team was missing many pieces which would often mask Kessie’s consistent performances for the team.
A poor attack, inconsistent midfield partners and a defence that could be found out were the main concerns for the team. Fixing these issues was mandatory for the progression of the club.
Luckily this season Franck Kessié had a team around him that can contribute, making his job in the middle of the park more noticeable.
A man of many talents
Milan under Stefano Pioli has consistently played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Kessié deployed in one of the two double pivot positions in front of the defence. This has helped maximise the best attributes of Kessié.
Bennacer dictates the tempo of the game, while Kessié can use his swiss army knife versatility to contribute to many areas of the pitch.
Whether it is breaking the lines, acting as a defensive presence, bombing forward, or intelligently using his physical attributes to progress the ball. Kessié is vital to the way Milan wants to play.
What makes Kessié special is his durability. In what has been an unprecedented season with the COVID-19 pandemic, no pre-season, and congested schedules, Kessié has barely missed any football.
In the league this season, Kessié has played the most minutes of any outfield player for Milan. The next closest is Hernandez with close to 300 minutes fewer. Kessié is Milan’s man of steel and in a season where many players suffered injuries during important stretches, he has always been there to carry the team.
Kessié is not necessarily elite at one specific thing, but his game is rounded enough to show no significant weaknesses.
This adaptability comes in handy in many different situations.
When the team is soaking pressure, playing on the back foot, or going directly at the opposition, Kessié can change his role and in each different scenario he fits the part like a glove.
Becoming One of Serie A’s Elite
The Ivorian has built great chemistry with Bennacer. However his improvement now also allows him to cover for the shortcomings for the less experienced Sandro Tonali and the lesser skilled Soualiho Meite when they are deployed next to him.
When being interviewed by Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, Kessié spoke about the importance of communication when playing in midfield.
“I think it’s such a good midfield partnership with Ismael Bennacer because we both speak French, so can communicate quickly. Sometimes by the time I’ve thought of the right word in Italian, the opponent has already gone…”
Kessié is still only 24 years old and is already one of the best midfielders in Italy and compared to the likes of Nicolo Barella and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
According to transfermarkt.com, Kessie has almost doubled his value in the past nine months. Once valued at $29 million, Kessie is now worth $55 million.
The Ivorian’s contract expires in the summer of 2022. Milan would be foolish not to lock down one of their most valuable assets to a long-term deal, as Kessié has shown that he is the future of the club.
Ice in his veins
Kessié finished the Serie A season scoring thirteen goals and setting up a further four. thirteen goals is a significant tally for a midfielder, albeit that eleven of the goals came from the penalty spot. The most penalties scored by any one player in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
In the decisive late game of the season with top-four qualification hanging in the balance, Kessié managed to convert two penalties.
It takes immense bravery and courage to have the hopes of a whole fanbase on your back. A fanbase that has been yearning for Champions League football for the last seven years, no less. Kessié stepped up to the spot. Cool, calm, and collected and spearheaded Milan into second place.
The Milan faithful call Kessié “El Presidente“. How fitting for the man who helped lead the revival of a European colossus.