Meet Rafael Leao, Milan's Forward Phenom

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Marco Luzzani / Stringer

Rafael Leao might just be Portugal’s best Under-23 player right now, and that’s why AC Milan fans are so excited about their young star.

Leading Serie A in successful dribbles completed with 57 so far with 25 matches completed is a telling stat in his growth. 

Compared to last season he only completed 34 dribbles in 500 more minutes of football. Last year, Leao was playing up top as an out-and-out striker but moving out to left wing and attempting more take-on has been key for his success in 2021/22. 

Surpassing his goal tally already and his goal contributions across all competitions, Leao has surged into a position where he’s already becoming one of the top attacking players in Serie A. 

So where exactly did a talent like this come from and why has he just burst onto the global scene this season?

History of Leao

When Rafael Leao first made his transfer from Lille to AC Milan for around 30 million Euros there were a lot of questions about who he was and what type of player he could be. 

The usual pressure and comments were coming from his youth days at Sporting CP. Sporting is one of the better footballing institutions in Portugal and most notably produced Cristiano Ronaldo. So naturally, we compare the new up and comers with the sport's elite 

Former Sporting youth league coach, Gerad Lopez said it himself, "Rafael is the best player in the history of the Sporting Academy."

Anytime you hear something like that there's reason to hold your breath and assume it's a bunch of hot air because the comparisons are completely unfair.

After some issues with Sporting that are still unresolved to this day Leao left at just 19 years old and headed to another talent factory, Lille. 

After one season in Ligue 1, Leao had scored eight goals and collected two assists primarily occupying the central forward position. This caught the attention of AC Milan management where they pushed for a big move for the talented player that saw him arrive at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Style of Play

Leao is one of the fastest players in Serie A with his gliding pace that is reminiscent of a gazelle with his strides that boost him up the pitch. 

Add that with the best dribbling in the league, it's impossible to defend him one-on-one in space. There have been multiple occasions where players are incapable of controlling him so another player has to come help.

This opens up so much more for the other Milan players and allows him to create multiple chances which have resulted in 6 assists across all competitions so far. 

At just 22 years of age his finishing isn't quite at the level of a top class player but it has improved throughout three seasons. The tallies are six, seven and 10 so far across all competitions.

In fact, Leao scored the fastest goal in Serie A history this season when he netted against Sassuolo inside of the opening 10 seconds.

With more minutes and a solidified spot on the left side Leao has become one of the biggest threats around. At in some more confidence and experience? Leao can be one of the best players in the world.

Leao's Future

Milan are in negotiations with his agent Jorge Mendes to extend his contract through 2026, which will see him enter his prime and hopefully become a regular with the Portugal national team. 

There have been multiple teams interested in his services for the future but the club has communitacted to those sides that he is deemed untouchable.

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Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Along with the likes of Theo Hernandez, Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali, Leao is a key piece to the Milan core that hopes to get back on top of Europe where they once were just 15 years ago.

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