If reports out of Italy are to be believed, Tottenham Hotspur might be close to an agreement for their first new signing in the Antonio Conte era. Sky Sports Italy reporter Rudy Galetti announced on Twitter a couple of days ago that Spurs are “close” to a deal to bring AC Milan and Cote D’Ivoire midfielder Franck Kessié to Spurs this summer.
#Atangana (#Kessie agent ) and #Tottenham are close to reaching an agreement. €10M per season as salary for the #Milan ⚫ midfielder and monstre fees for the agent. ⚽ #THFC #Calciomercato #Transfers https://t.co/fvlz4bvGdm— Rudy Galetti (@RudyGaletti) November 2, 2021
Kessié has been on Spurs’ radar for a little while now — there were reports linking Tottenham with a move for Kessié last summer, with Jose Mourinho apparently an admirer of the 24 year old central midfielder. There are good reasons to think why. Kessié was a regular starter for Milan last season with 13 goals and 4 assists in over 3200 minutes of action, though it’s worth noting that 11 of his goals were penalties. Kessié is in the last year of his contract at Milan and rejected a €32m contract extension in the fall, meaning he’s free to agree to a pre-contract with another club ahead of a free transfer this summer.
Physically, Kessié is a big guy, 6’ and decently fast for his size, making him very good at winning the ball and with the strength to get past players when he wants or needs to. Tactically, Kessie operates as a ball-winning midfielder at Milan, typically deployed next to Ismael Bennacer, who operates in a more deep lying playmaker role. He’s comfortable with the ball and is a pretty good passer — his highlight videos show him at his best gliding past players in a sort of Mousa Dembele-esque manner — but it’s notable that Kessié doesn’t typically deploy line-breaking forward balls that much.
He certainly covers a lot of ground, but he doesn’t exactly press opponents (this might be more of a Milan tactics thing) and there were suggestions from MIlan fans that his passing and decision-making are kinda frustrating, especially in and around the final third. Our sister site AC Milan Offside noted his propensity to misplace balls in and around the box and a tendency to fire bad shots into the cheap seats... which makes Kessié feel like he perhaps has a touch of the Sissokos around him if you know what I mean.
Honestly, Kessié looks and sounds an awful lot like Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, both in position and skill set. If Conte is looking for a hard-working midfielder who is adept at winning the ball and shepherding opposition players into less favorable areas of the pitch, then Kessié does seem like an attractive option and at an excellent price. But he’s not a passer in the Jorginho sense, making him likely a competitor not just with Hojbjerg but possibly also with Tanguy Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso in the center of the pitch. Spurs do have a glut of central midfielders already; the bigger question is whether they are the midfielders that Conte wants.
Kessié is reportedly asking for a salary of about €8.5m/year (~£160k/wk), on the high side but not outrageously so and certainly more acceptable in the context of Spurs not having to pay a transfer fee. If Spurs are interested and do pursue a summer transfer it does call into question the futures of several of Spurs’ current midfielders, most notably Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp.
This rumor has gained a bit of traction over the past few days, and I don’t necessarily hate the idea. Kessié is still fairly young — he turns 25 next month — and the price is certainly right. Perhaps he’s seen as a more like-for-like rotation for a player like Hojbjerg, and as of yet we still have no idea whom Conte likes or doesn’t like, but as of now I’m just a touch skeptical that Kessié would be an actual upgrade on what Spurs already have.