The signing of Franck Kessie was a good bit of business that went exactly to plan for Barcelona.
The Catalans identified him early on as a high-value free agent target, and acted quickly in courting him and getting the Ivorian to buy into Xavi’s project.
It feels like a perfect match. Franck has affection for the club, and is motivated to follow in the footsteps of Yaya Toure, who developed as a young player under Pep Guardiola before leaving the club and becoming a legend at Manchester City.
Like Yaya, Franck is a physical force in the midfield. But he’s also agile on the ball, and could take his game to the next level under a manager like Xavi who has the unique ability to mold him into a Barcelona playmaker.
It’s been reported that he’ll be earning a salary of 6 million euros, which is approximately a quarter of what Frenkie de Jong makes. The Dutchman’s future continues to be uncertain, and if he refuses to take the 40% pay cut that is being proposed, it’s likely he’ll be encouraged to take his services to England.
It all seems to be part of Joan Laporta’s grand strategy to implement a new wage structure to keep the club financially healthy within the financial fair play framework.
Combine Franck with the signing of Pablo Torre, and ignore the possibility of bringing in Bernardo Silva, and you can see how Barcelona has found a low-cost solution that will allow them to part with arguably its biggest talent.
With preseason friendlies starting up this week, keep an eye on Kessie. It sounds like Xavi will be strategic on how he approaches these games, especially in the midfield.
But what experiments are we likely to see?
Kessie as a holding midfielder?
Not likely, especially if Frenkie leaves. It was speculated that Kessie could combine with the Dutchman as a double pivot alternative to Sergio Busquets. Instead, Xavi has announced his intentions of experimenting with Nico in the holding role.
That means Franck will be competing directly with Gavi for a starting role next to Pedri.
But the competition is a blessing. It will force Gavi to be consistent, and to form a positional identity that complements Pedri. The two of them haven’t played much together, but when they did, Gavi seemed to fade into Pedri’s shadow. The two of them need time to figure each other out.
Franck may have an advantage over Gavi because of his experience and ability to adapt to different formations and tactics. Like Frenkie de Jong, Kessie will fill in the gaps. He is a true box to box player who is comfortable performing a variety of duties.
Press high up the field? Sure.
Provide cover for Sergio Busquets on counter attacks? Not a problem.
Play vertically by splitting the midfield on the dribble? He can do that too.
Kessie is not the type of player that needs to be the star of the show. He will do the thankless work that’s needed in the background to create time and space for his teammates. Pedri is a hard worker and will help on defense as needed, but he’s at his best as an attacking midfielder.
It’s also worth noting that Franck was essential to turning around the fortunes of AC Milan after being signed from Atalanta for 32 million euros in 2017. Like Barcelona, the Rossoneri fell on hard times, and it took them over a decade to make it back to the top, and Kessie was right there all along making the history happen.
In 2020-2021, Kessie had his best season for the club recording 13 goals and 4 assists to help secure a place in the Champions League. The next season, they went on to win the Serie A for the first time since 2011.
This is Kessie’s recent history, and it shows you the type of gritty player he is.
He has the mindset it takes to win trophies as an underdog, even when it takes time. Barcelona are the underdogs now with Real Madrid the heavy favorites to repeat as champions. Xavi is going to need a player like Kessie who has been there, shown determination over the course of several long seasons, and never stopped fighting until the glory was won.
I’m very excited to see what Xavi does with this midfield. If Frenkie de Jong stays, it’s going to be a big internal battle for playing time. If he leaves, there are plenty of tactical options to experiment with. Kessie, Gavi, and even Pablo Torre, all have unique skill sets that could provide an advantage on any given day.
Welcome Franck Kessie. Time to work your magic and fight for another domestic title, this time in Spain.