As the Derby della Madonnina looms ominously, two of Italy’s most iconic sides match up to claim their rightful place as ‘the’ club in Milan. Both share the same skies and the same streets, and both come from the same home, only to be divided by a rivalry woven into their history.
Much like Milan and Inter, Franck Kessie and Roberto Gagliardini share a similar story. Both grew up and were fed by the same hand in Bergamo by Atalanta, however they now find themselves worlds apart, each representing their own half of Milan.
Being Serie A’s most glamourous tie, the Derby della Madonnina is the centre-piece of the rich tapestry of Calcio enjoyed every season. However, for Kessie and Gagliardini, it is a chance to prove themselves worthy of being the best of Atalanta’s recent batch of exported talent. Despite them only playing together for six months before Inter swooped to snatch Gagliardini away in January 2017, both he and Kessie starred in a team that would go down in Atalanta history. Now, light years away from their humble football upbringing under Gian Piero Gasperini, it seems appropriate to assess how each has fared given their expensive, scrutinized moves.
Despite developing strains of consistency under Luciano Spalletti at Inter, Gagliardini has failed to score or assist this season. However, Gagliardini is a predominantly defensive midfielder, happy to shield the back line and use his physicality and intelligence to form a double pivot with more often than not Matias Vecino.
Despite being anonymous in Inter’s attacking department, which can also be said for pretty much anyone but Mauro Icardi, Gagliardini’s place at Inter is one with purpose, and since his move in January 2017 on loan and his subsequent permanent move for an initial €20m, he has demonstrated the evident potential at stake for both Inter and the Azzurri. Now 23, he should have a long future at Inter, but needs to be afforded to time to grow naturally.
Arguably more exciting was Ivorian Kessie’s move to Milan in the sumer of 2017 for an almost identical fee of €28m. Both have been important parts of their respective sides in midfield. Kessie gravitates towards the more attacking end, having scored four goals and assisted three in his 25 appearances for Milan this season. Having earned Rino Gattuso’s trust, he has cemented himself as an integral cog in their 4-3-3.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of the presence he has become in Milan is the fact he started all but one of the 39 competitive games he has featured in. Compare this to Gagliardini, who featured in 25 of Inter’s 28 matches this season, but started only 19 of those.
Much like the clubs they represent, Gagliardini found himself starting strong at Inter only for his influence to wane, while Kessie has grown into his role as the heir to Gennaro Gattuso in that Milan midfield.