Rafael Leao’s pace, power and flair invoke memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.
According to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.
Rafael Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli’s plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.
The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday.
He drove down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.
Leao leads Milan’s charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign.
While only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.
He has created 38 chances in the Italian top flight this season.
In speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, Fernandes heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil’s great Ronaldo.
“Leao has the power of Ronaldo; he has the talent to solve matches on his own,” said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.
“He reminds me of the ‘Phenomenon’ [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season has emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results.”
Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao at Sporting’s academy.
With Portugal compatriot Ronaldo is the only other youth player to display so much potential.
He added to the Milan star:
“We are talking about an extraordinary guy for me. I’m so happy with what he’s doing.
“I met him when he was young, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first-team debut at 18.
“I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent like him at that age. It is fascinating. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.
“I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri. He is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto. Now there are only two games left to finish the job.”
As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe’s elite, given the qualities he possesses.
“Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs globally, from Real Madrid to Barcelona,” Fernandes added. “I am convinced that he has an incredible career.”
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