AC Milan winger Rafael Leao has described his contract renewal as an ‘act of love’ while he set a very clear trophy target for the upcoming season.
Leao has not even been back in training for a week having been granted an extended break following his participation in international fixtures at the end of the season, but he looked bright along with the other returning players in the game against Real Madrid.
The Portuguese forward spoke during an interview with Sky (via PianetaMilan) while out in the USA on preseason tour, and the first question he was asked was about his decision to extend his contract until 2028.
“An act of love. The decision was already in my head, I thought about it a lot, it was just a matter of timing, of choosing the right moment. Before the contract, I wanted to go to the Champions League final … but we didn’t succeed,” he said.
“Perhaps in today’s football it is impossible to see each other in the same shirt for a lifetime. I signed for five years, it means I want to stay here.
“The project is very important, there are many young players and the most important thing is that here I can grow further for get to my goal: to win a lot.”
Speaking of the project, Milan went from Scudetto winners in 2022 to being without a trophy in 2023 although they did have a memorable European run. Leao is clear about the aims for the coming season.
“We have to win a trophy. We have to train and understand what the coach wants in order to have a season as a great team. From what I saw against Real Madrid, we have a very strong team.
“I have achieved the Scudetto dream, now we are missing the Champions League, the trophy that all players want to win. In Italy, however, it is difficult to win because there are so many strong teams and in 38 games you can never lose points.
“In the last year, the European competitions have shown that Serie A is a strong league.”
One of the more interesting notes from his renewal was the decision to move away from the No.17 shirt he had previously and take the No.10.
“I’m proud to have the 10 but it will be even better to play with the 10 at San Siro. I like it a lot, as I like the 7… but the 7 belongs to Yacine. I didn’t know if Brahim would go away and Brahim is a friend of mine,” he said.
“When I heard he had to return to Madrid, I asked the club for the 10. A 10 like Ruud Gullit? I saw a couple of his videos, he was very strong one-on-one, fast I just can’t compare myself to a player like that, I still need a lot to get to that level.”
Milan have been the most active of the top Serie A clubs in the summer transfer window with Marco Sportiello, Luka Romero, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Pulisic, Tijjani Reijnders and Noah Okafor all having arrived.
“Milan are a historic, great club. It’s not easy to show everyone what I’m here for, but I certainly try to help the young players who arrive,” Leao said.
“Christian Pulisic is strong in one-on-one situations. In general they are very strong. This year, from the goalkeeper to the attacker, we are all strong. I feel that the environment is top, we can have a good season.
“Christian is a strong player, he can make the difference left and right. he carries the ball, he’s the player who will push the team from back to front.
“There’s no player like him in Serie A. Tiijani Reijnders is good on set pieces. Tijjani shoots well, he’s strong in passing. The mezzala is important for us to dribble.”
Having been here since 2019, Leao is one of the senior members of this team despite only being young in age, and that is something he feels.
“Yes, I feel more and more of a leader, thanks to the trust of my team-mates. I’m not a person who talks a lot but I’m trying to do it more, to be a voice, even if I think there are better players to speak for the team. When I arrived, some teammates took me by the hand, now I’m doing it with the new ones.”
Less than 48 hours after that win against Verona, it was confirmed that Paolo Maldini and his right-hand man Ricky Massara were being relieved of their duties as the technical and sporting director, which caused a storm.
On Maldini’s farewell, Leao said: “It was a surprise. I also came to Milan because Maldini called me. He was very important to me, he helped me on and off the pitch, but the club decided that way. Maybe we’ll see each other in the future.”
CEO Giorgio Furlani and chief scout Geoffrey Moncada stepped up to form the new management, with their first big move being the club-record sale of Sandro Tonali, which created another polarising reaction.
“I didn’t expect the farewell but the club decided that way. It wasn’t easy because Sandro is a Milan fan, he helped us win the Scudetto. He made his way to Milan, now I wish him the best,” Leao said.
Finally, on Zlatan Ibrahimović’s exit: “A team-mate sent his message of strength to the team’s WhatsApp group, he says he’s rooting for us and he’s one of us. Maybe we’ll see each other soon.”