When Franck Kessie tried to whip up the San Siro crowd during their clash with former side Atalanta on the penultimate gameweek of the Serie A season, you feared it could have gone awry.
A cynical observer may have expected a non-reaction to a player expected to depart the club this summer after five years in Milan. Rather, supporters at a packed San Siro responded to great effect, and the ensuing din was perhaps somewhat of a relief.
The Ivory Coast midfielder is likely to join Spanish giants Barcelona in a matter of weeks after months of speculation over his future in Milan. There were links to Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, but it appears the Blaugrana have won the battle to secure his services.
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Kessie was on the receiving end of cold treatment from the Milanisti in February, when they appeared to boo the Ivorian in a league game against Sampdoria, a reaction that was censured by Stefano Pioli at the time.
“I heard it too. I don't think it's the right thing to do, because we need everyone; the past teaches us that it's the players' attitudes and behaviour that make the difference,” Pioli told Sky Italy.
“I don't care if they've renewed their contracts or if they're expiring... As long as they have the right attitude I'll put them on the pitch.”
True to his word, the ‘President’ has featured in every Serie A game since that 1-0 win over Sampdoria, starting 10 of the following 12 league matches and even captained the side for the third time this season in the 2-0 home success over Genoa last month.
After a quiet start to the season following participation at the Olympics and amid his contract standoff, Kessie is undoubtedly ending his final year in Lombardy positively.
In last weekend’s win over his former club, the 25-year-old made more recoveries (nine) than his colleagues and won more tackles than all but Pierre Kalulu (six), demonstrating his focus and aspiration to win this thrilling Scudetto race.
Beating La Dea was pivotal because it put Kessie and his teammates on the brink of the club’s 19th Serie A title and a first since 2011.
A point at Sassuolo will suffice for the Milan giants whose superior head-to-head over Inter mean they only need to avoid defeat in gameweek 38.
11 years is a long time for a club of this stature and they would have accepted this position if it were offered at the start of the campaign.
The table toppers head to a plucky Sassuolo on Sunday looking to prevent their hosts leaving them red-faced and thwarting prospects of a long-awaited title, but recent history backs the Emilia-Romagna outfit.
The last two meetings between the sides have gone the way of the Neroverdi, leaving them in a position where they could claim three successive wins over Milan for the first time in the Italian top-flight.
Having won the reverse fixture at San Siro 3-1, another loss for Pioli’s troops would see Sassuolo match a feat they have not quite managed since the 2014/15 campaign where they claimed six points from six against the side from Lombardy.
Kessie has largely been utilised in tandem with in-form Sandro Tonali of late in central midfield and the pair are likely to continue their partnership for a pivotal game in which all they have to do is avoid defeat at the Mapei Stadium.
The title race in Italy’s top-flight has gone to the wire 18 times in the competition’s history, with the side starting the day top winning the Scudetto on 14 of those occasions.
This is what Kessie and his colleagues strive to achieve on Sunday, as they seek to supplant Inter as champions after an 11-year wait.
The Ivorian has been one of the club’s vital cogs through an ascent in the last two years from also-rans to one of the top dogs in the division. A Scudetto at the backend of it all will be the icing on a very sweet cake and prove to be the perfect farewell for Milan’s ‘President’.