AC Milan winger Rafael Leao has shed light on some of the difficulties he faced when he arrived at the club, and thanks head coach Stefano Pioli for his role in his development.
When heading into his third season at the club, the general consensus was that Leao must begin to show signs of consistency in his game. Despite being just 22 years of age he had shown an explosive amount of potential in both of his first two full seasons, but only in short bursts.
This season he has answered those calls emphatically by amassing 11 goals across all competitions so far this season, becoming the most reliable player in Milan’s forward group and a new deal is apparently close to being agreed.
Leao spoke during an interview with DAZN about how he felt upon joining the Rossoneri from Lille in the summer of 2019 and how he has now settled in fully, with his comments relayed by MilanNews.
“The start was not easy because I arrived in a different league and I didn’t speak Italian. I was 19 and there were many high-level opponents. But everyone gave me a hand and now things are better,” he sad.
“Despite the difficulties, Pioli gave me confidence and placed me in the starting position. It is thanks to him that I became the current player. He gave me the right mentality because he is someone who pushed me to always believe in myself.
“He said to me: ‘You have talent, but you lack a bit of a winning mentality. If you want to get to the level of Mbappé and Ronaldo, you have to make a difference in every game, otherwise you are a trivial player’. I listened to him a lot and something clicked in my head when I talked to my personal trainer and my family.”
Pioli managed to change something in Leao’s head, who was unable to express all his talent on the pitch previously as he admits.
“I told myself that everyone should have seen who I really was and it happened. Mbappé and Ronaldo are the two a I’m inspired by, the ones I watch the most on YouTube. I’m still not a goalscorer like them, a ‘matador’, but I’m learning and I want to get to that level.
“The next step? Dribbling makes the difference, but sometimes I can score more and I have to do it even if I start from the left. When I arrive in front of the goal I have to be more clinical. In the past I wasn’t. Now instead… Am I growing up like Henry did? He was a great player, I’m still a young man trying to reach that level. Nothing compares.”
Leao has also become known for the surfer emoji on social media after he scores or the team get a positive result, and he explained why he chose it.
“Surfers sometimes get the wrong wave, but then they get back on the board and do well. I think it’s the right way to think: you can try and make mistakes but you have to keep learning, find solutions in the face of mistakes.”
Finally, he added a consideration on his friend Theo Hernandez: “He says he is faster than me? Once in training we have to run and bet… I like Theo because when he starts he is very powerful. For me he is one of the strongest left-backs in the world, a fundamental element for our team.”