After arriving from Lille in 2019 for about 23 million euros at the age of 20, Rafael Leao’s stock never truly rose. His abilities and talent were obvious but didn’t translate to much on-field progress. All the flashes of brilliance were visible, but they weren’t impactful enough.
A very promising display of this amazing gift was seen in the consolation goal he scored for AC Milan in the club’s 1 – 3 loss to Fiorentina where he received a pass from a teammate just on the edge of the opposition’s box, turns around three defenders before delivering one of the most fabulous finish in the Serie A that season.
The following season also started in a promising fashion for Leao as he scored a brace against a stubborn Spezia side on the 4th of October 2020. His next goal came almost a month after. He also scored the fastest goal in the top five European leagues after seven seconds against Sassuolo.
Many thought holders believed he lack the right mentality to be explosive. His talent was evident, but his inconsistency was more noticeable. This was more apparent because AC Milan was experiencing a fiery turnaround of fortunes on the pitch for good thanks to Stefano’s Pioli’s tactical evolution and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s efforts in uplifting the morale of the players in the dressing room.
Due to Leao’s formidable talent, he was expected to be one of the protagonists for a Milan side going through an ardent resurrection. Maybe the expectations were heavy for him to shoulder, maybe he needed time to settle or maybe he needed to tweak his mentality; we would never know. Understandably, he was still the jigsaw that was still missing in the piece of the total resurgence of AC Milan’s attack.
2021-2022 Football Season.
Consequently, after two seasons of observable underperformances, Leao has turned up the heat in Serie A this season. For context, he has scored against Atletico Madrid, provided an assist against Liverpool, and has also surpassed all his goals involved in the last five years of his European football sojourn. According to statistics by Kickest, Leao has amassed a total of 58 successful dribbles out of 91 this season in Serie A. He has also played a total of 56 shots with 22 of them on target as a left-winger. In terms of goal-scoring, he has scored 7 in 21 games this season already compared to 6 in 31, and 6 in 30 in the last two seasons respectively. He is currently being sought after by various European football heavyweights like Arsenal have already begun enquiries likening him to a younger version of the legendary Thiery Henry.
Leao’s had repeatedly mentioned that Zlatan Ibrahimovic constantly reached out to him to help him grow into the player he is right now. Invariably, Leao is still going through a refining process as he still looks very hungry for more success while partnering with Theo Hernandez to provide one of the most enterprising left-flanked attacking duo in Italian football this season.
Conclusively, his improvement is very much hinged on mentorship by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Stefano Pioli as well.