AC Milan winger Rafael Leao has explained how he had to work hard and cultivate his talent to be where he is, also directing some praise towards three key figures at the club.
Leao spoke to La Repubblica on the eve of the derby against Inter at San Siro and was first of all asked for his thoughts on the game, recalling last season’s success when the Rossoneri emerged 2-1 winners in the first meeting.
“I remember the one I won with my assist to Ibra, too bad there was no crowd. We want to win in front of the fans. Is it worth a piece of the Scudetto? It’s early: the last one Inter won, they must be respected. But a derby is a derby, winning it is important,” he said (via MilanNews).
The Portuguese, among other things, spent words of praise for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he has enjoyed playing close to as almost a support striker in off the left size.
“Zlatan is an older brother, I am always close to him. He knows I can make a difference with my feet, but he shows me that the important thing is the head, always staying focused.”
Two other figures who have been given huge credit for their part in turning Milan around are Paolo Maldini and Stefano Pioli, and Leao looks up to both of them.
“My points of reference? Pioli, a demanding coach. Maldini, an idol who speaks with simplicity so that each of us gives the best. And Ibra, an example for the past and for the present: age for him is a number.”
Heading into his third season at the club, the feeling was that Leao must begin to show signs of consistency in his game. Despite being just 22 years of age he has shown an explosive amount of potential in both of his first two full seasons, but only in glimpses, however now he seems to have taken that leap.
“Our style of play has the sense of freedom that the coach teaches us: you are young but mature on the pitch, he tells us, enjoy your youth but honor this shirt. I feel the confidence of team-mates who give me the ball, dribble it to find myself in front of the goal and give an assist or a goal.
“Am I predestined? God gave me talent, the rarest thing. But then there are the sacrifices, the hard work. You don’t play football alone. I have a talent to cultivate. In Milan I’m showing what I can do.”