Franck Kessie: Ivorian’s exit from AC Milan sparks mixed feelings

Franck Kessie of Ivory Coast with the Italian Serie A Cup
Franck Kessie helped AC Milan win the Italian title for the first time since 2010/11 in his final season at the San Siro

Franck Kessie’s signing in 2017 was one of the few good things to come out of Li Yonghong’s controversial year as AC Milan owner.

Kessie, 25, will leave the newly crowned Italian champions when his contract expires next month Spanish giants Barcelona are his expected target.

“My contract expires in a month and it’s impossible to extend it,” said the midfielder.

Rossoneri fans will have mixed feelings as Kessie received both praise and boos this season as he helped the club return to the top in Italy but ultimately opted to leave on a free transfer.

He joined Cesena and Atalanta after two impressive years in Italy, scoring 37 goals in 223 games in all competitions in his five seasons with Milan.

The Ivorian played a crucial role in the club’s rebirth, helping them qualify for the Champions League at the end of last season after a seven-year absence before then winning the ultimate prize of a first Serie A title in 11 seasons.

Despite his impressive stats, he struggled to establish himself in his first two years under the stewardship of first Vincenzo Montella and then Gennaro Gattuso.

By that time, Chinese businessman Li had handed the club over to Elliott Management after borrowing large amounts of money from American hedge fund and denied reports that he had been declared bankrupt.

Still, Kessie has played more minutes than any other AC Milan player since arriving at the San Siro, spending almost 18,400 minutes – over 300 hours – on the pitch.

Post Covid Success

Frank Kessie is greeted by AC Milan fans
Kessie has scored six goals in 31 Serie A games this season

Kessie’s improvement coincided with that Arrival of Stefano Pioli as Milan boss in October 2019, and the pair enjoyed an undefeated finish to the disrupted 2019-20 league campaign.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced Serie A on hiatus in March 2020 and when they returned in June, Kessie and his team-mates had not lost their last 12 games to finish sixth and qualify for the Europa League.

The results saw Pioli’s contract renewed by Milan, who then went unbeaten in La Liga until January 2021.

boiler enjoyed life with the Rossoneri when he spoke to BBC Sport Africa in October 2020.

“Wearing this jersey feels like a second skin to me, it’s an honor and a responsibility at the same time,” he said.

“We represent millions of fans around the world and we all work hard every day to bring AC Milan back to where it belongs.”

Last season was outstanding for Kessie as he missed just one league game through suspension.

He helped the seven-time European champions finish runners-up in Serie A and return to the Champions League with 13 goals, including 11 from the penalty spot.

A change of heart

That success led to Kessie – nicknamed “The President” by Milan fans – seemingly entrusting his future to the San Siro team.

He hinted that he would sign a new contract upon his return from the Tokyo Olympics, where he was one of Ivory Coast’s aging players.

“I am proud to have chosen this club and I want to stay forever. I love it when fans shout my name: “One President, we only have one President!” he said last July.

That new deal didn’t materialize, however, and chants for the “President” eventually turned to boos in recent months.

The worst fears of Rossoneri supporters were confirmed this week when Kessie spoke to a French TV station.

“I came for a five-year project. We returned to the Champions League and won the Scudetto. I did what I came for and that’s the best way to part,” he said.

“I’m so happy for the city, my teammates, the coach, for me and my family.”

AC Milan's Franck Kessie celebrates after scoring his third goal against Sassuolo
Kessie scored in his last appearance for Milan to complete the Scudetto

Milan were reportedly unable to meet Kessie’s financial demands and rumors surrounding his future left him struggling to maintain consistency last season despite winning the title.

For the fans who once adored him, the uncertainty and the final result were a painful reminder of two other favourites, Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, both of whom left as free agents and cost Milan transfer earnings.

Despite backlash from some of the crowd, Kessie left on a high note as he scored Milan’s last goal of the season the 3-0 victory in Sassuolo which sealed the club’s 19th Serie A title.

His face reflected the emotion of the event as he smashed the ball off the bar after a Rafael Leao pullback, making good on his promise to put Milan back at the top of the Italian game.

There’s no doubt that Kessie will be bittersweet about his departure and fans will also be divided – was his departure thanks to the midfielder or was it the club’s decision to stick to a salary cap and not give in to Kessie’s demands?

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