When Mali locks horns with Cote d’Ivoire in Suez at the 2019 Total AFCON Round of 16 on Monday 8 July, it’s going to be a battle of the midfield between the two West African teams. Cote d’Ivoire coach Ibrahima Kamara can rely on AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessié who had a great match against the Brave Warriors of Namibia, leading Les Elephants to a 4-1 win.

Author of a hat-trick of assists against Namibia, Kessie completed a tremendous work in the midfield. He contributed a lot to the victory that allowed the Ivoirians to finish second in group D behind Morocco.

Trained at the Adjamé Stella club in Abidjan, Franck saw his career start as he captained Cote d’Ivoire to the U-17 AFCON title in Morocco 2013, before reaching the quarterfinal of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE few months later.

For his professional debut, Franck signed in January 2015 with Italian side Atalanta, which immediately loaned him for a season to Cesena at Serie B. He then returned to Serie A with Atalanta where he scored 7 goals and 3 assists in 31 games in all competitions in the season (2016-2017). The Ivorian midfielder joined AC Milan where, last season, he scored 7 goals and 2 assists in 42 games.

Kessie who is called The Zébizékou Panther, referring to his native village in western Côte d’Ivoire, was not recalled at the last moment by then coach Hervé Renard for AFCON 2015 won by the Elephants. He admitted that it did not hurt and does not hold grudge. Before pointing out that, I was happy like all Ivoirians because our country was trying to win back the trophy since the one won in 1992. I called practically all the comrades to congratulate them.

Unfortunately in 2017 when he was on the Gabonese expedition, Cote d’Ivoire was eliminated in the group stage and Franck Kessie to confide that it was a first experience for many of his partners and him. While indicating that they are still learning in this 2019 edition, he said “we are working with the coach to try to go as far as possible”.

As part of the important framework of Elephants, Franck Kessié, despite the ambitions of the team to be among the best, remains humble in noting that they are ready for the challenge without stating that the goal is to win the AFCON title, whose second phase, for them, begins with the knockout stages against the Eagles of Mali.

The game of Coach Ibrahima Kamara certainly relies on Franck Kessie who has shown good evidence on the offensive game of Ivoirians against Namibia. This was due to his repositioning in the midfield where he played in front of his teammates Serey Dié and Jean-Philippe Gbamin. And against the Eagles, the team that will prevail in the midfield could make the difference and this is where Franck Kessie will, as his fans say, make the difference.