Tonight, will be a special night for AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie as he breaks a significant and long-standing record that lies with George Weah. The Ivory Coast international will take the mantle of the most capped African player at Milan from Weah – the Liberia international, in the match against Napoli in the Serie A tonight. This game will mark Kessie’s 148th first team appearance in official competitions for the Rossoneri surpassing Weah’s 147 games which has stood as the most appearances by an African player since 1999.
George Weah is one of Milan’s iconic strikers who ran rampant in Serie A in the nineties lifting the Ballon d’Or in his first couple of months at the club due to his results for PSG and Milan in 1995. Weah led the side to a Scudetto in his first season with 11 goals and 14 assists taking over from Daniele Massaro, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit who all departed the club ahead of the season. Weah bore the brunt of the responsibility as Roberto Baggio had a difficult first season and other such as Paolo di Canio and Marco Simone were rather inconsistent. He established him as a leader of the team as Milan went through a crisis of leadership between 1996-98 with coaching changes and the departure of captain Franco Baresi as he retired. Weah nonetheless contributed 29 goals and 11 assists in the two seasons where Milan finished in 10th place in Serie A. At this point, he also gifted Milanisti one of the best goals ever scored in red and black with an unbelievable run and finish against Hellas Verona in the opening game of the 1996/97 season where he picked up the ball after a Verona croner and proceeded to glide past the entire opposition side, dummy the keeper and slot home after sprinting across the entire pitch. He capped that off with his infamous ‘roar’ celebration. In Weah’s final complete season in 1998/99 he partnered with Oliver Bierhoff to cap off his Milan career with another Scudetto and eight goals in the league including a brace in a 2-0 win over Juventus . The 1999/00 season would be his last as he left the club mid season to join Chelsea but Weah left his mark in style scoring the winner in the Derby della Madonnina at the 89th minute. The striker retired in 2003 and began a life of politics thereafter, Weah currently serves as the 25th President of Liberia since 2018.
Franck Kessie meanwhile joined Milan in the summer of 2017 as part of a spending spree by Milan’s new owners from Atalanta on a two year loan with an option to buy. The midfielder brought a level of tenacity to the midfield that the Rossoneri lacked for years as his box-to-box approach saw him cover for the defence and drive forward at will. Kessie partnered with the likes of Manuel Locatelli, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Ismael Bennacer and now even Sandro Tonali but has remained an immovable piece in the midfield earning heaps of praise from former coach Gennaro Gattuso as well as current gaffer Stefano Pioli despite a rough start. Kessie receive quite a bit of criticism from Milan fans in his second season in particular as his touch often let him down and his decision making was often poor in attack but he turned all of that around when reverting to a more defensive role since last season. Kessie’s strength and work rate have been his biggest assets as he has become one of the most imposing figures in the midfield in Italy. Mila have never lost a game when Kessie has scored and he has been the trusted penalty kicker since joining. Despite playing largely as a central midfielder, he is the joint top scorer for Milan in Serie A since the summer of 2017 with 18 goals tied with his buddy Hakan Calhanoglu. The Ivorian is yet to lift silverware with the Rossoneri but is a leader in the locker room and is a big part of the resurgence of the club in the last few years as he has barely missed a game since joining the club. Kessie is now one of the fan favourites for his simple yet efficient style and his quintessential ‘salute’ celebration. Kessie will rewrite the history books tonight as he takes the mantle from one of the best African footballers ever to have lived, looking forward to see him soar to new heights as he is only at the start of his career at just 23 years old.
Let’s hope the midfielder gets an opportunity to bag a goal and take home all three points in this iconic fixture for the Ivorian tonight.