FEATURE | Rafa Leão’s new contract will enable him to do what he does best

Milan announced the long awaited contract extension of Rafael Leão on Friday, which ties the Portugese starboy to the club until 2028. GIFN’s Jurre van Wanrooij explores what this means for Leão and the Rossoneri

It’s Friday, 3pm, and the social media channels of Milan post the first hints of Rafael Leão extending his current deal at the club. Righly so, the Milanisti are going crazy. Milan then dropped the traditional Casa Milan pictures with Maldini and co, plus a video of Leão which featured a song of his, showing what he’s capable of outside the pitch. 

The Portugese attacker helped Milan clinch their first Scudetto since 2010/11 last year and was named the best player in the league. This season, however, has been a different story. Leão and the Rossoneri started out well initially, with the Portugese winger even downing Inter in the derby with two goals and an assist (3-2 overall). Leão even enjoyed some personal success with some influencial substitution performances at the World Cup with Portugal. Talks about a potential transfer started, and a contract ending in 2024 didn’t help the situation.

Eventually, the Milanese train ran out of steam and head coach Stefano Pioli knew he had to make some changes to get them back on the rails. Pioli decided to switch from his classic 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2, thus moving Leão into a position he doesn’t play in often. It showed, because the 23-year-old looked uncomfortable and couldn’t match his numbers from earlier in the season. Milan did not perform in the league like Pioli had hoped after his changes, so when the time for their crucial Champions League Quarter Final double against Napoli came, the tactician went back to the drawing board.

Milan returned to a back four and almost immediately Leão looked like his old self. He won Serie A Player of the Month in April and proved his importance to this Milan side. When Rafa performs, the Rossoneri do as well. He stood up when his team needed him and helped Milan reach the UCL spots. The relentless dribbles, tidy finishes and smiles returned to the pitch. Leão became a joy to watch again, a player you turn a game on for. In a season where many doubted his abilities, Leão only had one league contribution less than Serie A MVP Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. Personally, I think the former has had a bigger impact on his team.

With the season ending soon, Milan have secured Leão’s signature. Rumours about a move in the summer have cooled down and a move does not seem likely. His new contract might not only put Milanisti’s minds to rest, but could also allow Leão to focus on what he does best: surf through defences and give the opposition a tough day and of course, help Milan reclaim the Scudetto with a smile on his face. 


Jurre van Wanrooij | GIFN




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