Leão: “The renewal was act of love, I feel more and more like a leader, scoring 20 goals in a season is an objective, the new signings are very strong”

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Rafael Leão talking to the press in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

Rafael Leão has given an interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport, as he has his eyes set on tattooing 2 stars.

Milan are currently in a training camp in the United States, getting ready for the 2023/24 campaign and it will be an interesting season to watch as the Rossoneri are revamping their squad.

Rafa Leão, the best Milan player in recent years, has welcomed 6 new teammates so far: Marco Sportiello, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Luka Romero, Christian Pulisic, Tijjani Reijnders and Noah Okafor (and Samuel Chukwueze by the end of the week).

The 24-year-old, who now lives without the stress of the contract renewal in his shadow sat down for an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Luca Bianchin to discuss the upcoming year.

The renewal of the contract happened a few months ago: given how complex it was, was it an act of love or numerical?
“An act of love. The decision was already in my head, I had thought about it a lot and it was just a question of timing, of choosing the right moment. Before the contract, I wanted to reach the Champions League final… but we didn’t succeed.”

Is the idea to stay at Milan for life or is this outdated? Perhaps in today’s football it’s impossible to see yourself wearing the same jersey for a lifetime…
“I signed for 5 years, it means I want to be here. The project is very important, there are a lot of young guys and the most important thing is that here I can grow further to reach my objective: to win a lot.”

Rafael Leão during training in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

Let’s take a look at the season that can be seen on the horizon. With such a new Milan, in terms of names and ideas, what will it be like?
“We have to win a trophy. We have to train and understand what the coach wants in order to have a season of a great team. From what I saw against Real Madrid, we have a very strong team.”

Is it better to win in Italy or in Europe?
“I have fulfilled my dream of the Scudetto, now the Champions League is missing, the trophy that all the players want to win. In Italy, however, it’s difficult to win because there are so many strong teams and in 38 games you can never lose points. The European competitions, last year, showed that Serie A is a strong league.”

Rafael Leão during a meet and greet in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

A novelty: the number 10 is on your back, with your name spelled out in full, Rafa Leão. How does it feel?
“I’m proud to have the #10 but it will be even nicer to play with it at San Siro. I liked it a lot, just like the number 7, but #7 is of Yacine. I didn’t know if Brahim was going to leave, and Brahim is a friend of mine. When I heard he was going back to Madrid, I asked for the #10.”

The number 10 calls for comparison with Ruud Gullit; for those who have seen him play the comparison comes naturally: same number, same devastating physique, and same pigtails running in the hair. Is there a similarity or not?
“I saw a few videos of him, he was very strong in 1v1, and fast. I just can’t compare myself to a player like that, I still miss a lot to get to that level.”

Rafael Leão during training in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

The novelties of the summer are the purchases, the latest being your friend Noah Okafor. There has been a lot of talk on social media about ‘agent Leão’ – Rafa working to convince strong players to sign for Milan. How does it work?
“Milan is an historic, great club. It’s not easy to show everyone what I’m here for, but I certainly try to help the guys who come on.”

Let’s choose a quality for each of the new signings seen in training. Pulisic?
“The 1v1. Christian is a strong player, he can make the difference on the right and on the left.”

But on the left there would be that new number 10…
“Well, he can play a few games instead of me…”

Rafael Leão during a meet and greet in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

Loftus-Cheek?
“The strength. He’s powerful, he carries the ball and he is a player who will push the team forward from behind. There isn’t a player like him in Serie A.”

Reijnders?
“The skill on dead balls. Tijjani kicks well, he is strong in passing. The holding midfielder is important for us to move the ball around.”

In general, how are the new ones?
“Very strong. This year from goalkeeper to striker, we are all strong. I feel that the environment is at the top, we can have a good season.”

Rafael Leão during training in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

A 20-goal season in Serie A? Can it be done?
“Yes, scoring 20 goals is an objective, although I don’t put it in my head. If I do things right, it will come because last year I came close and the team can help me get to that figure.”

Let’s start with Rafa’s role in the locker room. Pioli has said in recent days that he sees a more mature Leão, as if there has been rapid growth in recent months. Is there a desire to be more of a leader, to talk more?
“Yes, I feel more and more like a leader, thanks to the trust of my teammates. I’m not a person who talks a lot but I’m trying to do it more, to be a voice, even though I think there are players who are better at speaking to the team. When I arrived, some teammates took me by the hand, now I’m doing it with the new guys.”

Rafael Leão during training in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

So, speaking of the past, how was it to experience Paolo Maldini’s farewell?
“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.”

And Tonali’s transfer?
“I didn’t expect the farewell but the club decided so. It wasn’t easy because Sandro is a Milanista, he helped us win the Scudetto. He made his journey with Milan, now I wish him the best.”

Does Ibra always call?
“A teammate broadcasted his message of strength on the team’s WhatsApp group: he says he cheers for us and is one of us. Maybe we’ll see each other soon.”

Rafael Leão during training in the USA. (@acmilan.com)

Finally, a few curiosities. The first on the physique, which looks increasingly sculpted, even in training alone before the get-together. From Portuguese to Portuguese, it brings to mind the change in the Cristiano Ronaldo years. Is there the idea of working on it a lot? Will the muscles still grow or… is that OK?
“For 3 years I have understood that doing this is important to avoid injuries: my trainer has been with me in the summer, then he came to Milano and Portugal. Now I’m still not 100% but we’ve been doing a lot of running training to get there for the start of the campaign.”

Let’s go off the pitch. Does Rafa Leão ever think about the possibility of becoming a father?
“Yes, I want to be a father soon, although I haven’t put it in my mind. When it comes, it will come.”

The latest tattoo? And the next one?
“The latest one is on the left wrist, with the names of my best friend and nephew plus the infinity sign. I’m thinking of making one for the Scudetto won. And if we win it back, maybe I’ll get the two stars tattooed.”

Rafael Leão and Fikayo Tomori on the way to the United States. (@acmilan.com)

Quick picks in Los Angeles. An artist it would be nice to make a record with?
“Lil Baby.”

An actor to do a commercial with?
“Will Smith.”

A star to do an Instagram story with?
“Kevin Hart.”

And a player it would be nice to play with?
“Mbappé.”

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