Kessie's love affair with AC Milan is already over, but is Barcelona really the right move for the Ivorian?

Franck Kessie AC Milan Serie A 2021-22Getty

Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle first saw Franck Kessie play live eight years ago.

Kessie was a centre-half back then, and captain of his country's Under-20s. Beaumelle could see why.

It was not just Kessie's quality which stood out, but his leadership skills. He did not say much, but he was a dominant force and imposing figure.

Beaumelle recently told the Gazzetta dello Sport, "I immediately fell in love with him as a player." And AC Milan supporters were just as quickly smitten.

Kessie had not yet turned 21 when he arrived from Atalanta in 2017, but it was not long before the Rossoneri faithful christened him 'Il presidente'.

"It's because I'm the head of the dressing room," a smiling Kessie told Sky Sport Italia in September 2020.

Few fans still call Kessie 'Il Presidente' now, though; many Milanisti prefer just to whistle and boo him instead.

Their hostility is arguably understandable.

Even if words count for little in the money-orientated modern game, Milan supporters were heartened by comments Kessie made before heading off to represent Ivory Coast at last summer's Olympics.

“When I come back, I’ll fix everything,” he vowed in an interview with the Gazzetta. "I just want Milan. Sporting director Paolo Maldini knows my thoughts. I want to be the ‘President’ of Milan for life.”

Instead, he will join Barcelona on a free transfer at the end of the season.

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It is a brutal blow for Milan, who lost two other first team-regulars, Gigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu, for nothing last summer.

At Camp Nou, he will earn €6.5 million (£5m/$7m) per season – which is only fractionally more money than he was offered to stay at San Siro.

The failure to agree on an extension was not really about Kessie's salary, though, but rather the size of the commission being demanded by his agent.

In that sense, it was a very similar scenario to what happened with Donnarumma's representative, Mino Raiola, last year.

Milan were saddened by the goalkeeper's exit, given he had been a mainstay for the first team since the age of 16, but they have no regrets over their strong stance.

After all, they have replaced Donnarumma with the brilliant Mike Maignan and will be optimistic that Maldini & Co. can pull off another transfer market masterstroke as they look to fill the void left behind by Kessie.

Donnarumma has also struggled to replicate his Euro 2020 heroics at new club Paris Saint-Germain, and has been in and out of the starting line-up as a result.

So, is Kessie in danger of suffering a similar fate in Catalunya?

As previously reported by GOAL, Barcelona have pushed hard to convince the Ivorian to move to Camp Nou, given he had many other suitors.

Remember, this is a player that has long been expected to move to the Premier League.

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He very nearly joined Sunderland in 2017, but work permit issues scuppered the deal, while he was subsequently and repeatedly linked with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United, against whom he turned in an impressive display at Old Trafford last season.

However, while he is likely to play in England on Tuesday night, with Ivory Coast in town to face Gareth Southgate's Three Lions at Wembley, Xavi has seemingly convinced Kessie to continue his club career in Spain next season.

According to reports in Barcelona, the legendary playmaker has already spoken to the midfielder by phone to explain the role he has in mind for him.

The Blaugrana boss' desire to add Kessie to his squad is understandable.

Kessie may not conform to the image of the archetypal Barcelona midfielder, but that is exactly why Xavi wants him: he is unlike any other player currently on the Blaugrana's books.

As well as being a technically talented player, he boasts a physicality that the likes of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Nico Gonzalez, Riqui Puig and Gavi simply do not possess.

He is also wonderfully versatile. 

Kessie actually started out as a centre-back, but when he arrived on loan at Cesena in 2015, then-coach Massimo Drago realised straight away that the teenager had the requisite skills, vision and intelligence to play further forward.

He returned to Atalanta a completely different player and took his game to a whole other level under Gian Piero Gasperini.

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Kessie continued to mature in Milan, too, thanks to the expert guidance of Stefano Pioli, who has even deployed the multi-talented Stella club product as a trequartista this season.

Indeed, it is far more likely that he will be given a more offensive midfield role at Barca, rather than asked to take Busquets' position in front of the backline.

For all his attributes, though, it is undeniably difficult to see him being a guaranteed starter at Camp Nou, at least not initially, given the outrageous quality of the likes of Pedri and Gavi.

However, it is believed that Kessie is viewed by the Blaugrana as an extremely valuable option to have, particularly for the team's toughest fixtures.

It is very much worth pointing out, though, that Kessie has not played well at all this season. He does not rank among Serie A's top 10 midfielders in any major category, either offensive or defensive.

He has scored five times but he has looked nothing like the player that played a pivotal role in Milan securing a return to the Champions League last season with 13 goals.

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Some have argued that the contractual controversy has taken its toll, while Beaumelle believes that Kessie should have taken a longer break after the Olympics. 

He has always said that if "[Ivory Coast[ are a Ferrari, Franck is our engine."

He clearly remains enamoured with the player he first fell in love with eight years ago, in no doubt that Barcelona fans will quickly take him to their hearts too.