REAL MADRID

Real Madrid have their sights set on AC Milan's Franck Kessié

The AC Milan midfielder, who Madrid plan to sign on a free transfer next summer, has his own Foundation in the Ivory Coast and never forgets his roots.

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Real Madrid have their sights set on AC Milan's Franck Kessié
DANIELE MASCOLO REUTERS

Real Madrid are looking to add muscle to their midfield and one player who could fulfill that need is Franck Kessié. The 24-year-old, who overcame a tough childhood in which he lost his father when he was just 11 years old, was forced to grow up quickly - especially after moving to Italy where he had to support his five older brothers living in a modest apartment in Emilia-Romagna. A few years on, he has a market value of 55 million euros... although Madrid hope to land him for nothing next summer when his contract with AC Milan comes to an end.

Kessié had only just turned 17 when he received his first call-up for the Ivory Coast senior side when he was spotted by Atalanta. Maurizio Costanzi, the man in charge of the Italian club's youth academy recommended signing him without delay - he was already a strong player who, within a couple of years would be ready to play for the first team. He didn't take long to win over coach Gian Piero Gasperini - "That boy's got a lot of personality" he would say. But Kessie was loaned out the following season to gain more experience at Cesena before he had even made his debut for Atalanta's first team. Ended up at Milan, first only on loan, but now he is in the position where he can either accept an offer to renew his contract and boost his salary to 6.5 million euros, or leave to join the club of his choice on a free transfer next June.

Tragedy strikes

Kessié is originally from Ouragahio, a remote village  of 36,000 inhabitants in the south part of Ivory Coast - also the hometown of recent Villarreal signing Serge Aurier. The Kessié family lost their father, a military man, due to illness when they were still kids.

With Yayá Touré as the player he models himself on, Franck Yannick Kessié is living 7,300 kilometres from his birthplace in one of Italy's wealthiest regions but he has never forgotten where he came from. He started up his own Foundation in his country to help young footballers, and regularly pays tribute to his late father (he often celebrates his goals with a military salute) and he enjoys going back to where it all started for him. A few years ago, after he had turned  professional in Italy, he shared a photograph of himself playing football in his village on social media - on a dusty, soil pitch, and wearing a Den Haag shirt, shorts borrowed from a team mate and best of all, a pair of sandals as he'd lent his boots to someone else.

Franck Kessié playing in sandals during a trip back home to the Ivory Coast.

Accused of being five years older

Kessié's maturity has led some to question his real age. At the Under-17 World Cup in 2013, he scored against Morocco, which prompted the Moroccan Football Federation to send a complaint to FIFA alleging that the midfielder was five years older than his official birth date. The quarrel emerged from a profile which had appeared on the official web site of the Ivorian Federation which featured the wrong date of birth, a genuine mistake. FIFA accepted the explanation and the player continued with his national team for the remainder of the tournament.