AC Milan forward Rafael Leao has outlined the transformation from playing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on FIFA to in real life, as well as how the team have been so successful.
Leao was born on 10 June 1999, just three months before Ibrahimovic made his competitive debut with Malmo, and now he gets to share a pitch with a player he considers one of his biggest inspirations.
“I was playing with him on the PS4,” Leao told CBS Sports.
“Then I moved to Milan and I’m playing with him, training with him in real life. Every day with him is an opportunity to improve, I’m very proud and I’m trying to listen and getting better every day with him.
“Outside the game he plays, he laughs. Inside the pitch, he’s different. He’s rude, he doesn’t play. When you have him on the pitch, you can beat any team, it doesn’t matter who they are.
“He’s an icon. When you have him in the team, you can achieve great things. You have Ibra, he gives you the experience of playing Champions League, winning the Europa League.
“After him you have young players and a great coach, when [Pioli] comes to the match he says to us ‘don’t get pressured, play your game and enjoy.’ When I hear that, that’s what I do. I just enjoy the game.”
Milan were able to extend their unbeaten league run to 22 games and also their lead atop the Serie A table to five points with a victory on Sunday afternoon over Sampdoria, in which a Franck Kessie penalty and a goal from Castillejo were enough for three points.
Looking at the top five European leagues – Italy, France, Spain, Germany and England – no other team has the points average this season that the Rossoneri do apart from Atletico Madrid.
Leao though is remaining grounded, and takes lessons from every game no matter what the result.
“If we lose, we’re going to improve and learn from it. The club gives us the confidence, we don’t have pressure, we just enjoy the game,” he continued.
“Of course [we feel the weight of expectations at Milan], we have to give 100 percent for this shirt. But when your coach tells you not to feel the pressure, to enjoy your game, that’s the most important thing for a young player to hear, to show what you can do.”
“When we returned from lockdown, we went to every match like it was a final. Our group we said, ‘this match is a final, the next match is a final.’ That’s the change,” Leao continued.
The Portugal U21 international also revealed an interesting back story regarding Jens Petter Hauge and his goal against Celtic.
The Norwegian picked the ball up on the left touchline, level with the penalty area, before beating three defenders and slotting low past Vasilis Barkas’ inside far post.
“In the first half, when we went to the dressing room, I said ‘bro, keep going, go one against one and you’re going to score.’
“It’s my team-mate. When he helps the team, he helps me. When the team isn’t going well, it’s difficult for players to show up.
“When we go to the matches we know we have to give 100 percent because this club won seven Champions League. Coppa Italia, Europa League, it doesn’t matter, we go to win always.”