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Charles Onwuakpa writes a detailed scout report about Franck Kessié, Atalanta’s powerful box-to-box midfielder.
A football system that allows all its players to express their full potential and, therefore, win games is the utopian dream of most coaches. Sometimes you need to tinker with the formation, experiment and work out different solutions to guarantee your squad the right balance, without falling to compromises on your principles. This was exactly the case of Gian Piero Gasperini, Atalanta’s new coach. The former Genoa manager struggled a lot earlier this season, and after losing 4 of their first 5 Serie A games, he seemed to be approaching the exit door already. Patience from the club and faith in their well renowned youth academy proved to be keys towards success, as the Bergamaschi are currently playing their best ever football in the Italian top flight division with a well deserved 5th position in Serie A. One of their standout players this season is certainly Franck Kessié: the youngster had showcased glimpses of talent earlier on, and now faces a very promising career ahead of him after a key tactical switch from his boss.
Born in Ouragahio (Ivory Coast) on the 19th of December 1996, Franck Yannick Kessié began his career in Stella Club d’Adjamé, joining their youth setup in 2010. In 2014 he was promoted to the first team, making ten appearances and scoring three goals before departing in January 2015.
On the 29th of January 2015, Kessié signed a three-year contract with Atalanta. He was assigned to the club’s Primavera squad upon his arrival, and made seven appearances for the side.
On the 26th of August 2015, Kessié joined Cesena in the Serie B on a one-year loan deal. He made his professional debut on the 26th of September, coming on as a substitute for Antonino Ragusa in a 0–0 away draw against Perugia. Kessié scored his first professional goal on the 31st of October 2015, netting the last in a 2–0 home win against Virtus Lanciano. He became a regular fixture in the starting XI afterwards, appearing in 37 matches and scoring four goals as his side missed out on promotion in the play-offs.
Talent Radar Accolades
After returning from loan, Kessié was promoted to the first team by manager Gian Piero Gasperini. After appearing with the main squad during the pre-season, he made his debut for La Dea on 13th August 2016, starting and scoring the last in a 3–0 Coppa Italia home win against Cremonese. Six days later, he renewed his contract until 2021.
Despite his young age, Kessié has also represented his national team at under-17 and under-20 levels and was even included in Ivory Coast’s 23-man squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Prior to last season, Kessié had always played as a centre back throughout his career. While on loan at Cesena, his former coach Massimo Drago noticed the Ivorian’s impressive technique, as well as good stamina and strong physique.
Kessié was therefore deployed to a more advanced role and has now emerged as a very exciting box-to-box midfielder: exactly the type of player that suits Gasperini’s system.
Kessié is 186 cm tall and weighs 78 kg. He is strong and powerful on the ball, making it difficult for him to be tackled or dispossessed. He has a good turn of pace and can burst on with great acceleration and a very direct approach (he manages 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes).
Sometimes he is just unstoppable and the opponents find it hard to deal with him. Kessié’s best attribute is probably his vertical running: he is intelligent and very instinctive when committing himself into running towards spaces between the defensive lines, where he can receive through balls and shoot. The fact that he is two-footed also makes him an unpredictable player for goalkeepers and defenders, as Franck is blessed with a powerful shot. He manages 1.9 shots per 90 minutes with a 42% accuracy and has scored 6 goals so far in the campaign: 2 of these were match-winning penalties in the final minutes of those games, showing that he has great composure and calm in front of goal when needed.
Kessié’s biggest weakness is probably his lack of discipline: Gasperini demands his teams to play with very high intensity and aggressiveness when without the ball. It is therefore very often to see Atalanta defending forward and counter pressing their opponent: things in which Kessié is quite good. In fact he manages 1.5 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per 90 minutes: good numbers but not so impressive. The problem is that the Ivorian tends to commit himself too much in the challenge (2.3 fouls per 90 minutes), and is therefore likely to pick up a booking. Despite that, he’s just 20 so he’ll have a lot of time to improve and gain experience.
Kessié is tall but only wins 50% of his aerial duels: in my opinion this percentage could really increase as he has showed to be a danger when running towards the penalty box. Proper training could make him become a specialist when attacking set-pieces.
Another aspect in which the Ivorian can definitely improve is his passing: he has a decent pass accuracy (84%), but his passes are mainly short and square. Playing in a 3-4-2-1 system such as Atalanta’s can help him to be more vertical and direct in his passing. The numbers have been encouraging never the less, as the 20-year-old has managed 3 assists and 0.8 key passes per 90 minutes.
Kessié has the physical qualities to outmuscle all his opponents and can become one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game, provided that he improves his passing technique/range and first touch.
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