Portugal boss explains not starting Leao: “A player who enjoys a certain freedom in his club team”

By Oliver Fisher -

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has explained why he has not yet given Rafael Leao a start at the World Cup despite scoring so quickly in his first appearance.

Leao showed all of his athleticism and speed in the 3-2 win against Ghana in the first group stage game, as well as perfect movement to open up space for the assist from his team-mate and a precise right-footed shot into the corner to open his World Cup account.

Many thought that would lead to the Milan winger getting a start either in the next game or in the South Korea one given the need to rotate, but Leao is stuck on two appearances from the bench.

Fernando Santos spoke at his pre-match press conference before the round of 16 match against Switzerland, and he was asked about his use of Leao.

“He has enormous potential. He will have a great career but he is experiencing the normal difficulties of a player who enjoys a certain freedom in his club team and is not called upon to balance the game,” he said (via Calciomercato.com).

“He has made a fantastic effort, but there are players who stand out in some teams and not in others. This does not detract from the qualities of him and the trust I have in him.”

Tags AC Milan Rafael Leao


  1. The boy should learn from the comment.

    Milan has given him the freedom and ingredients necessary to be the star man, and he may not get that in other teams

  2. Santos is absolutely right.
    I’ve been saying this for a while here. He depends only on 1v1 with a lot of space in front of him and is not really a team player. His game is very limited.
    As much as that is due to his stubbornness and unwillingness to expand his game, it’s also Pioli’s fault because he allows it.
    For Leao to reach a higher level and finally learn how to play football, not dependent solely on his speed and strength he would need another coach who will demand that from him and hold him responsible.
    Zlatan Ibrahimovic louds Capelo as the coach that changed his career. Leao needs a hard-nosed coach like that, but also, he needs to be willing to learn and improve.
    He has all the tangible, but almost none of the intangible characteristics needed to be a great player

      1. “he’s a team player. Just check his assist and key pass records.”

        It’s so damn obvious you REALLY don’t understand what team player means. Playing for the team requires committing to playing FOR THE TEAM and not just getting his name on the score sheets. The matches last 90 minutes (at minimum) and scoring a goal means nothing if you let the opponents score twice.

        I guess Gattuso wasn’t a team player because he didn’t score goals & get assists. 😀

        1. Honestly, you don’t know what a team player is 🦘🙃, A team player is the kind of player who delivered his/her duties perfectly and also supports others in other to archive the same goals for the team. The player that is not team players in the Milan team are, Ibrahim Diaz, messiah jr, origi. How can someone with the most assist and goals for the team is not a team player, he is not a defender…. His major work is to create chances, which he does. Hope you know that he created the highest number of opportunities in the league

  3. Milan spent 32million and Leao is still on low salary. Milan won scudetto with Leao and Champions League KO stage. Milan won a lot with Leao. Leao won with Milan fame. So Leao must find way with Milan. In 2 or 3 years Milan can sell Leao for reasonable fee.

    1. “Milan won a lot with Leao”

      1 scudetto is not a lot. Now if Milan win 2-3 scudetto, 2 champions league, 1 italian cup, 1 super eropa, and 1 world club cup then we can say Milan won a lot with him.

      1. Did you ask him, “won a lot” of matches or of trophies?
        Reading through his comment, I think I will agree that we won a lot of matches because of individual talents like Leao, of course not to mention others.

        Of course football is a team sport, but sometimes even the best teams need individual players whose skillset can win matches, Leao falls in that category.

        Watch France at the world cup, great team with great players, but Deschamps knows this: give the ball to Mbappe, and he will cause havoc.

    1. No, he’s saying that Leao is lazy and selfish with only one move. Far, far from being a complete player, never mind world-class.
      Which is why if any wealthy team actually makes an acceptable bid, sell, sell, sell. But I doubt that will happen as most of the supposed offers are just agent games to get a better contract and the top teams generally know who is good and who’s not. Unlike the ignorant fanboys on here.

      1. You don’t even understand what the game is all about, every team needs individual brilliance, that’s where Leao comes in for milan, as for the Portuguese coach his style is different from Milan style, different tactics, Leao doesn’t seems to fit in but his time will definitely come and each time he is introduced he shut people like you up

        1. Yeah, you’re absolutely correct on that.

          England, Rashford has had to sit on the bench, does that mean that Saka is a better player than him? He’ll no. Even Foden had been on the bench, does that make him a bad player? No.

          Portugal, first of all, they play with two strikers, and we all know Leao isn’t the best CF out there.
          Even when they play with wingers, the coach has preferred to play Joao Mario who’s more of an AM to play as LW, no way he’s a better winger and Leao, no way, maybe because he defends more, now look at the match against Switzerland, the coach went purely to play both Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandez as his wingers, we all know those are AMs by trade, this goes to show that there are certain characteristics which the coach prefers for his wing players.

          1. Point of correction,saka is a far more better player than Rashford in both club and country.Infact it’s an insult to Saka to compare him with Rashford ,Rashford is just hitting form ,all this Man U fan boys ,that was how you people were saying Sancho is better than Saka ,where is he now ?He was not even called up for the National team,same would have been the case of Rashford but he was lucky he found his form .Saka is preferred to him anytime any day .Saka is a consistent player,not injury prone and takes the ball to defenders and make open play for strikers .Rashford has a lot to learn from him .

  4. Every Milan Leao critic should kindly Shut the F**k up…… Until Milan has a better player than Leao in that position, creating chances and Winning games, regardless of work ethic,…

  5. Now I am only waiting for that some punk will say that Theo Hernandez is not a team player. He is playing similar to Leao even though he is lb defender. They are both without any kind of comparison the best players in the Italian league and on their teams in the World Cup. Some people don’t see the greatness in players that are so fantastic like those two. I know that there has been no discussion concerning Theo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that will happen, because this site has become very sick. I have been an AC Milan fan since 1959 so I believe that I have just a little insight in what has happened during many years. I’m happy that Leao and Theo are playing for AC Milan making one of the greatest left side in the football since Maldini stopped.

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