Lille defender Djalo discusses Leao’s future and insists he has Mbappe-level potential

By Oliver Fisher -

Lille defender Tiago Djalo believes that his compatriot Rafael Leao has what it takes to eventually go on and win the Ballon d’Or, if his development continues.

Djaló was signed by Milan in January 2019 as his contract with Sporting CP was about to expire, and he trained with the senior side under the then new head coach Stefano Pioli, but he did not make a competitive appearance with the Rossoneri.

The Portuguese defender then headed for Lille with whom he signed five-year deal as part of the deal that saw his ex-Sporting team-mate Leao come the other way and join Milan. Since then, Djalo has gone on to be a regular at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy and has made over 70 appearances for Lille.

Djaló spoke during an interview with MilanNews and he discussed his relationship with Leao and what the future might hold for the winger.

You and Rafa Leão grew up together at Sporting CP and fate wanted you to cross paths in 2019. What can you tell us about the Portuguese ace that the Rossoneri fans may not know yet?

“Rafa is one of the greatest talents I’ve met. He’s a true friend and I’ll tell you one thing: what he’s showing now is no surprise to me. I had always told him he would become one of the strongest and now he has to just keep working because at this level, talent isn’t everything. Having said that, I’m really happy that he’s playing at a great level.”

Everyone talks about how strong Mbappé and Haaland are… but can Rafa reach their level?

“For me, yes. Two years ago I told him he had everything to reach the top level in the world. And do you know what he replied? That I was crazy! (laughs). I’ve known Leão for a long time, we were roommates at Sporting.

“He has always been a talent and therefore I have never stopped believing in him. He is going strong and if he continues on this path for 2-3 years he will become one of the best players in the world, perhaps the best.”

Something in his head must have clicked between 2021 and 2022? The first year alternated good performance with moments of difficulty but now he is really uncatchable, unplayable, devastating – what has changed?

“I don’t agree that he was less good the first year. In my opinion he wasn’t ready but since then his mentality has changed and he trains better and everyone can see this. It was a bit difficult for me at Milan too, above all because Italian is a difficult language for us Portuguese. In the last year we haven’t spoken much but I know it has changed.”

He scores goals, racks up assists and now he’s even sacrificing himself in defence to help the team as we saw in Salerno. Is he becoming complete?

“It’s no surprise to me. I’ve known him for a long time and every time we played against him he put me in trouble. I always told him that in one-on-one nobody can stop him, it’s tough. I hope it continues like this.”

Can he win the Ballon d’Or one day?

“For me, yes: Rafa can win it.”

Do you think he will stay at Milan?

“I don’t know, it depends on him. With the talent he has, he can play for all the teams in the world.”

Even teams like Bayern, PSG, City?

“Yes, I repeat, in all the clubs of the world”.

What will he decide to do?

“Good question… he just needs to make the best decision for himself. If you make the wrong decision in football, you’re dead.”

Tags AC Milan Rafael Leao Tiago Djalo
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