Exclusive: Franck Kessie on seizing his Barça chance, Xavi's call & Ansu's block
The midfielder is finally getting an opportunity to show his talent at Camp Nou
Patience and perseverance, Franck Kessie's keys to making the most of the opportunity Xavi has given him; his 2023 has been impeccable. Humble, a good talker and much less shy than we expected, he spoke to SPORT at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper this week. The 'President' is eager to explain how he feels almost a year after having saying yes to Barcelona.
How are you feeling, Franck? You're looking better and better...
Things are going very well. I'm happy to be here, (happy with) my teammates, the work and the relationship with the staff and the club in general, it's great to be here.
Have you already parked in president Laporta's spot?
(Laughs) No, I haven't done it here yet...
Explain to us where the nickname 'President' comes from.
One of the first days I arrived at the car park of Milan's sports complex and I parked in a space that was free. I saw a security employee coming toward me. He told me that I couldn't park in that space, that it belonged to the president. I had to change it, of course, because otherwise I would be fined. From that moment on, everyone at the club started calling me 'The President'.
And your colleagues at Milan were amazed, of course.
The Milan players thought it was strange, because nobody had ever done it before, it's not something usual. And that was the story in the dressing room forever.
What has changed in the last few months to make you a permanent fixture in the team?
I would say the continuity of the work and the confidence of the coach and my teammates. Now it's time to continue with this dynamic, to keep working hard. The objective is to keep getting opportunities, to keep the confidence of the coach.
"Cuando Xavi me llamó me impresionó mucho, era mi ídolo, alguien a quien admiraba..."
What struck you most about the change from Milan to Barcelona?
I would say that they are two very different ways of playing and understanding football. Here you see that it is much more technical. You have to win, yes, but not just any old way. You have to do it by playing well, maintaining an identity, taking care of the ball. At Milan, it was different, much more direct. The main thing was the result. What doesn't change is that at both clubs you have to win, of course.
You came from playing everything, being the star. It must not have been easy to accept your situation at the beginning.
Of course it was difficult at the beginning. All players aspire to play. When you play you're not worried, you're confident. Of course, when you play very little, very occasionally, it's not easy. With time, with work, with my camp, who have given me strength and energy and also my mentality, of course. Even if I didn't play much, I still trained hard. Even the coach told me to be patient, he gave me absolute confidence. He told me that I had to keep persevering, working hard and that an opportunity would come.
Were you prepared to live through something like that?
Mentally I was prepared for something like that. I knew it was a new challenge, a special club, something totally different. A new country. Especially the mental side. If you are prepared and believe in yourself and that the opportunity will come, things will work out. Focus on the objective.
Xavi said that he called you personally to convince you. How do you remember that call?
Xavi was the key, yes. When you look up to someone as a kid and sometime later, maybe eight, nine, 10 years later, your phone rings... it's those calls you've been waiting for and dreaming about all your life. You pick up the phone in awe already. A huge player calling you to try to convince you to join his project. I hardly needed time to think, the decision was more than made.
He has praised your patience and attitude several times in press conferences.
It's a pleasure to be publicly praised by Xavi and held up as an example. As my camp tell me, if you are patient, things end up working out. You have to respect the decisions and instructions of the staff. And also respect your colleagues, of course. Pay attention to everyone, to the details, be positive. Because if you sink and give up then when the opportunity comes, you're not ready. Because you never know when it will come.
Your physique stands out, do you think it's key to your style of play?
To have a good physique you have to have a good recovery. When I work here, in training, then I need to keep working at home to recover well and prepare the body to regenerate it for the rest of the week. Massages, cold baths, this kind of thing...
Pedri joked recently that he preferred to keep away from you in training...
It's logical. We don't have the same muscle mass or the same weight. And of course, there are players who are not as strong but then they have other virtues. Even so, most of them are very tough with and without the ball. They have spectacular vision.
Have you ever seen a talent like Pedri?
I've met some very talented players, but Pedri is spectacular. He has a vision...he's magic. He's like a little brother. I like him a lot. Everyone in the team is delighted with him, how he plays.
I imagine Ansu invited you to dinner after the goal he took away from you on the line in Clasico?
(Laughs) No, no. You have to laugh and that's it. I have a very good relationship with Ansu, to be honest. The team has great solidarity; total cohesion. I think the attitude of the group is perfect. In fact, only two or three seconds later I told him not to think about it, to focus on the match. We already had the lead and it was just an anecdote.
"Muchos jugadores sueñan con jugar un clásico y yo juego tres en 30 días"
Gavi is small, but he is also very tough...
Gavi is a player with brutal quality. It's clear he's going to win many trophies at Barça. Like Pedri, like Ansu, like Balde. They have real magic.
We're on a run of three Clasicos in a month. What is it like to play so many in such a short time, the biggest game in the world in terms of media?
It's a game that is seen all over the world, it's amazing. It's something that every player in the world would like to play once. I'm going to play three in 30 days. Before the Clasico there are other games and we mustn't lose our concentration. They are just as important.
In January there was a lot of talk about your future, did you ever consider leaving to look for playing time?
The idea of leaving never crossed my mind. Never. Neither to me nor to those around me. I have a four-year contract and I'm still in my first year. I am a Barça player and I hope to continue being one for the next few years. I'm totally focused on Barça.
Do you prefer to play closer to the opposing box or closer to the base of the play?
There are games for everything. The staff and the coach decide according to each context. When I score goals and I'm close to the box it's great for me, but also when I don't score and we win. My role is not that of an attacker, I am not a striker. I am there to help the team.