Franck Kessié started his Milan career with plenty of high expectations after his break-out campaign with Atalanta in the 2016-2017 season. He was immediately thrown into the starting eleven and responded with stellar performances in the preseason, Europa League qualifiers, and early on in the Serie A season.
The Ivorian was clearly the strongest footballer on the pitch in most of these matches, easily out-muscling those who attempted to tackle him or stop one of his forward sprints with the ball. In addition to this, his stamina was astounding and something not seen before for Milan after having the likes of Andrea Bertolacci and Jose Sosa playing in the midfield in past seasons. Milan fans knew they had something special on their hands, and were convinced that Kessié would be a consistent starter for years to come.
As the season went on, however, the Ivorian’s performances began to fall off. His play on the ball was sloppy and he often impeded good attacking movements by taking uncalled for long shots that would miss the target by several feet. His confidence was low and it was clear that he was gassed and in desperate need of rest. Former Milan manager Vincenzo Montella continuously started Kessié as other midfield options weren’t performing up to par, but many of these starts came in matches where he wasn’t necessarily needed such as those versus weaker sides in the Europa League. Many Serie A followers were already calling Milan’s purchase of Kessié a bust, but things quickly changed when Montella was sacked and Gennaro Gattuso was given the opportunity to manage the senior side.
Gattuso had high praise for Kessié before he took over the team, saying Kessié’s physique was downright scary and that overall he believed the Ivorian was a more technical and a better overall player than himself. Those claims were big coming from a midfielder who had been on the top of the football world after winning competitions such as the Champions League and the World Cup, but Gattuso couldn’t have been more serious when he said this.
When Gattuso was appointed manager after Montella’s dismissal, he once again compared Kessié to himself and it was clear they were forming a budding relationship.
The former Atalanta star had arguably his best performance as a member of the Rossoneri in Milan’s biggest win of the season versus city rivals Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia. Kessié was all over the pitch constantly battling for the ball, making smart passes, and running all over the pitch for a full 120 minutes. Milan fans call Kessié “the Tank” and that match made it was clear why he quickly received that nickname.
Another notable performance from the midfielder came in Milan’s most recent victory at the Sardegna Arena versus Cagliari. The Milanese giants found themselves down 1-0 early after a Gigio Donnarumma error, but Kessié willed the team to victory after scoring a first-half brace in less than 10 minutes.
Gattuso was high on praise for Kessié once again after the match, saying Kessié is far better than he ever was. The Ivorian responded to Gattuso’s statement by saying that he’s learning everyday from a “great champion” like Gattuso and would like to continue in his current form.
Gattuso is still considered an interim manager for the Rossoneri, but the work he has done with Kessié has really stood out and has the midfielder returning to the form which made Milan a more dangerous team and Kessié a focus of opposing team’s game plans.