Saturday Apr 18, 2020. 12:00
It’s been a tough old season for AC Milan in Serie A, with the Rossoneri languishing in seventh place on the log after just 10 of 26 matches before the campaign was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
The arrival of old favourite Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the perk put into the team by manager Stefano Pioli (who took over the reins in October 2019 and became Milan’s third manager in the calendar year, after Gennaro Gattuso and Marco Giampaolo) has seen the team at least avoid the possible ignominy of a lower-half finish.
Yet the ambition of a top-six spot and a return to European club football in the Europa League seems very meagre for a club which boasts seven Champions League titles – a number bettered only by Real Madrid.
Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel for Milan fans, with their youthful team possessing stars of the future, such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Giacomo Bonaventura and Daniel Maldini (the son of the legendary Paolo Maldini).
And there is further reason for optimism, as the African midfield axis of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer could grow into one of, if not the best in Serie A for the foreseeable future. The players are 23 and 22 respectively, but entering the prime phase of their careers.
We already know the class of Kessie, who made his name at Atalanta as a barn-storming box-to-box midfielder, while Bennacer’s abilities were highlighted by his player of the tournament gong from Algeria’s triumph at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Algerian is still finding his feet at the Rossoneri and the current lack of matches hurts his development, but he has the sheer ability to overcome this hurdle, even though he admits that being unable to play is a major frustration.
“We must all be united, we will come out stronger, the whole world. You have to keep your head up. I, for one, continue to keep in shape. I try to take care of myself. I hope you will do the same,” he explained. “I train two or three times a day, if I can. I miss the pitch so much; it will be even more beautiful when we can return to play for this fantastic audience.”
A powerful, driving Kessie combined with the elegance and intelligence of Bennacer promises to provide Milan with a midfield foundation for success, and the platform for some of their exciting youngsters to express themselves and possibly take the club back to the heights where it belongs.
If and when Serie A resumes in a ravaged Italy, African football fans will be keeping a keen eye on the Kessie-Bennacer axis.
Ismael Bennacer – 2019-20 Serie A stats
Appearances (subs) 18 (2)
Minutes played 1620
Yellow cards 12
Red cards 0
Shots per game average 0.4
Passing accuracy 86.4%
Key passes per game average 0.8
Dribbles per game average 3
Fouled per game average 1.1
Franck Kessie – 2019-20 Serie A stats
Appearances (subs) 21 (2)
Minutes played 1850
Yellow cards 3
Red cards 0
Shots per game average 1
Passing accuracy 88.1%
Key passes per game average 1
Dribbles per game average 0.8
Fouled per game average 0.7