Rafael Leão

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Rafael Leão
Rafael Leão February 2018.jpg
Leão with Sporting CP Youth in 2018
Personal information
Full name Rafael Alexandre da Conceição Leão[1]
Date of birth (1999-06-10) 10 June 1999 (age 23)[2]
Place of birth Almada, Portugal[2]
Height 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)[3]
Position(s) Winger
Club information
Current team
AC Milan
Number 17
Youth career
2006–2007 Amora
2007–2008 Foot 21
2008–2017 Sporting CP
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2017 Sporting CP B 12 (7)
2018 Sporting CP 3 (1)
2018–2019 Lille 24 (8)
2019– AC Milan 95 (23)
National team
2015 Portugal U16 10 (2)
2015–2016 Portugal U17 11 (4)
2016–2017 Portugal U19 17 (5)
2017–2019 Portugal U20 8 (2)
2017–2021 Portugal U21 15 (1)
2021– Portugal 9 (0)
*Club domestic league appearances and goals, correct as of 17:05, 23 May 2022 (UTC)
‡ National team caps and goals, correct as of 23:41, 12 June 2022 (UTC)

Rafael Alexandre da Conceição Leão (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʁɐfɐˈɛɫ ˈljɐ̃w̃]; born 10 June 1999) is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays as a forward for Serie A club AC Milan and the Portugal national team.

Graduating from Sporting CP youth system, Leão made his first-team debut in 2018, winning the 2017–18 Taça da Liga, before unilaterally terminating his contract, following an incident within the club. Shortly after, he joined for Ligue 1 side Lille on a free transfer. AC Milan signed him in 2019 for a reported fee of €23 million. In his third season at the club, he helped the team win the 2021–22 Serie A, which ended the club's 11-year league title drought. He was also voted Serie A Most Valuable Player.

Leão is a former Portugal youth international, representing his country at various youth levels, being part of the under-17 team that won the 2016 European Championship. He made his senior international debut in 2021.

Club career[edit]

Sporting CP[edit]

Born in Almada, Setúbal District, to Angolan parents, Leão joined Sporting CP's youth system at the age of 9 after a brief spell in Amora.[4][5] On 21 May 2017, still a junior, he made his senior debut with the reserves, coming on as a second-half substitute and scoring in a 1–1 away draw against Braga B.[6]

Courtesy of manager Jorge Jesus, Leão first appeared in the Primeira Liga with the first team on 11 February 2018, replacing Bryan Ruiz for the last 21 minutes of the 2–0 home win over Feirense.[7][8] On 2 March, having taken the place of injured Seydou Doumbia late into the first half, he equalised for the visitors a few minutes after taking the pitch but in a 2–1 away loss to Porto[9]– in the process, he became the club's youngest-ever scorer against that opposition.[10]

On 14 June 2018, Leão unilaterally terminated his contract at the Estádio José Alvalade,[11] citing an incident where players and staff had been attacked by fans during training.[12]


On 8 August 2018, Leão joined French club Lille on a free transfer, signing a five-year deal.[13] Sporting CP would later dispute Lille's deal to sign the player, deeming the transfer "unacceptable", filling a complaint with FIFA and claiming the €45 million of his release clause.[14] At the beginning of September 2018, Leão wanted to terminate his contract with the club, after his transfer was not approved by the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), due to sanctions imposed by the Direction Nationale du Contrôle de Gestion (DNCG), following Lille's financial difficulties.[15][16] After being convinced by his representative to stay at Lille, the DNCG validated Lille's pending contracts, including the contract of Leão.[17]

Leão made his competitive debut on 30 September 2018, replacing Loïc Rémy in the 78th minute, in a 3–0 victory over Olympique de Marseille.[18] He scored his first Ligue 1 goal in only his second appearance, playing 67 minutes and helping the hosts defeat Caen in a 1–0 victory.[19] During his spell, Leão scored eight goals in 26 competitive games, shared teams with compatriots José Fonte, Rui Fonte, Edgar Ié and Xeka and finished with his teammates as runners-up in a brilliant 2018-19 Ligue 1 season.[20]

AC Milan[edit]

2019–21: Adaptation to Italy[edit]

On 1 August 2019, Leão signed a five-year contract at A.C. Milan for a fee of €23 million.[21] He made his Serie A debut on 25 August, replacing Samu Castillejo in 75th-minute in a 1–0 away defeat to Udinese.[22] Leão scored his first goal of the club, as a late consolation in a 1–3 home loss to Fiorentina on 29 September.[23] On 19 March 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) condemned Leão to pay €16.5 million to Sporting CP for his unilateral breach of contract.[24] On 7 July 2020, Leão scored a goal against league-leaders Juventus, to help Milan to a 4–2 win, after being down by two goals. At the end of the season, he had scored six goals in 31 league matches, helping Milan to a sixth-place finish and a 10-match unbeaten streak.[25]

At the beginning of the following season, on 4 October 2020, Leão scored a brace in a 3–0 home victory at San Siro against Spezia.[26] On 29 October, he scored his first goal in European competitions, in a 3–0 home group stage victory in the UEFA Europa League against Sparta Prague.[27] He scored the fastest goal in the history of Serie A and in Europe's top-five leagues, after six seconds on 20 December at Sassuolo; the match ended 2–1 for his team.[28]

On 3 January 2021, he scored the second goal against Benevento in eventual 2–0 away win, becoming the second youngest foreign player (21 years and 207 days) to score more than ten goals for Milan in Serie A, after Alexandre Pato (19 years and 19 days).[29]

2021–22: Serie A champion[edit]

At the start of the 2021–22 season, on 29 August, Leão scored the first goal from a shot outside the box, in a 4–1 home victory against Cagliari at San Siro.[30] On 15 September, on in his UEFA Champions League debut, he provided an assist for Ante Rebić in a 3–2 away defeat to Liverpool;[31] and on 28 September, he scored his first goal in the competition in a 2–1 home loss against Atlético Madrid.[32]

On 9 February 2022, Leão opened the score sheet against Lazio and assisted the second goal,[33] being directly involved in 14 goals in the season, surpassing his record during his career in Europe's the top 5 leagues.[34] Four days later, in his 100th appearance for Milan, he scored the only goal in 1–0 win against Sampdoria, which put Milan in the top of the league table.[35][36] On 25 February, he scored his eighth league goal of the season against Udinese, in a eventual 1–1 draw, becoming in the process the second player to score in each of the seven days of a week in Serie A with AC Milan, after Andriy Shevchenko.[37][38]

On 1 May, Leão scored the winner in a 1–0 win against Fiorentina, becoming the youngest Portuguese to score at least 10 goals in a single Serie A campaign.[39] Seven days later, Leão's two assists to Sandro Tonali helped his team come from behind to defeat Hellas Verona 3–1 away from home, allowing his side to overtake rivals Inter at the top of the Serie A table.[40][41] On 22 May, he provided a hat-trick of assists for the first time in his career as Milan beat Sassuolo 3–0 away from home to win their first Serie A title in eleven years.[42] At the end of the season, Leão was awarded the Serie A MVP award for the 2021–22 season, finishing the campaign with 11 goals and 10 assists.[43]

International career[edit]


With the Portugal under-17s, Leão took participated in the 2016 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. In this competition, he played five out of six matches, not playing against the Netherlands in the semifinals. In the finals against Spain, Leão replaced Domingos Quina in the 79th minute; Portugal went on to win the competition for the sixth time, following a 5–4 penalty shoot-out victory after a 1–1 draw in extra-time.[44]

With the under-19s, Leão participated in the 2017 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, helping finishing as runner-up, after losing in the final to England.[45] For his performances throughout the competition, he was named in the "Team of the Tournament".[46] At the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland he played all three games and scored the only goal in a 1–1 draw against South Africa, though his side did not advance from the group.[47]

On 10 November 2017, aged only 18, Leão won his first cap for the Portugal under-21 side, playing 31 minutes in a 1–1 away draw against Romania for the 2019 UEFA European Championship qualifiers.[48][49] He scored his first goal at that level on 10 September 2019, in a 2–0 victory in Belarus for the 2021 European Championship qualification campaign.[50] In March 2021, Leão took part in the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, helping Portugal finish as runners-up, after losing in the final 1–0 to Germany.[51]


On 5 October 2021, Leão was called up to the senior team for the first time, as a replacement for the injured Rafa Silva.[52] Four days later, he made his international debut, replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at half-time and providing the assist for André Silva's goal in a 3–0 friendly defeat of Qatar.[53]

Player profile[edit]

Style of play[edit]

Leão is regarded as a highly skillful and technical player, capable of playing on either flank, due to his versatility. Not only is he quite tall and lean, he has a great burst and top-end speed to match, making him a very dynamic forward.[54] Having developed as a centre-forward at youth level, he offers a dynamic presence in the forward line. He stretches and disrupts defences with his movements, with and without the ball.[54] Leão is a prolific and proficient dribbler; he drives powerfully from deep then beats players in one-on-one situations around the box with skill and changes of speed and he is also capable of creating chances and providing assists for teammates from the left due to his vision.[54] Inside the penalty area, he gets into good positions off dribbles and movement, being able to play as a striker, due to his composure, and eye for goal.[54] During his managerial spell at Milan, Stefano Pioli deployed Leão as a supporting striker or a winger on either side of the pitch, rather than an out-and-out striker.[55]


Leão drew comparisons to French player Kylian Mbappé, being called the 'Portuguese Mbappe'.[12] Tiago Fernandes, who worked with him at the Sporting youth academy, told French newspaper L'Équipe that in his opinion the player was better than Cristiano Ronaldo at the same stage.[56] Jesus, who later coached him in the first team, said that he reminded him of former club striker Rui Jordão.[57] Leão's coach at Milan, Stefano Pioli and Italian manager Fabio Capello, compared him to former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.[58]

Career statistics[edit]


As of match played 22 May 2022[59]
Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
Club Season League Cup Continental Other Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Sporting CP B 2016–17 LigaPro 1 1 1 1
2017–18 LigaPro 11 6 11 6
Total 12 7 12 7
Sporting CP 2017–18 Primeira Liga 3 1 0 0 2[a] 1 5 2
Lille 2018–19 Ligue 1 24 8 2 0 26 8
Milan 2019–20 Serie A 31 6 2 0 33 6
2020–21 Serie A 30 6 2 0 8[a] 1 40 7
2021–22 Serie A 34 11 4 2 4[b] 1 42 14
Total 95 23 8 2 12 2 115 27
Career total 134 39 9 2 14 3 0 0 157 44
  1. ^ a b Appearances in UEFA Europa League
  2. ^ Appearances in UEFA Champions League


As of match played 12 June 2022[60]
Appearances and goals by national team and year
National team Year Apps Goals
Portugal 2021 3 0
2022 6 0
Total 9 0


Sporting CP

AC Milan




  1. ^ "FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019: List of Players: Portugal" (PDF). FIFA. 13 June 2019. p. 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2020. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Rafael Leão" (in Portuguese). Mais Futebol. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  3. ^ "Rafael Leão". A.C. Milan. Archived from the original on 27 January 2022. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  4. ^ "Poderá Rafael Leão vir a ser a nova estrela do Sporting?" [Can Rafael Leão be Sporting's next star?]. Record (in Portuguese). 13 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  5. ^ "RAFAEL LEÃO »» Do futebol de rua nas Paivas à sua passagem pelo Amora" [RAFAEL LEÃO »» From street football at the Paivas to Amora spell]. Jornal de Desporto (in Portuguese). 6 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  6. ^ "COMENTÁRIO: Sporting B empata com Braga B e impede terceiro lugar aos minhotos" [COMMENT: Sporting B draw with Braga B and prevent minhotos from finishing third]. Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). 21 May 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  7. ^ Marques Simões, Rui (11 February 2018). "Leões vencem Feirense com dois golos tardios" [Lions beat Feirense with two late goals]. Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  8. ^ ""Rafael Leão tremia por todo o lado"" [«Rafael Leão was shaking all over the place»]. A Bola (in Portuguese). 11 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  9. ^ Tavares Silva, Hugo (2 March 2018). "A lei de Brahimi" [Brahimi's law] (in Portuguese). TSF. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Sporting não venceu o clássico, mas Rafael Leão fez história" [Sporting did not win classic, but Rafael Leão made history] (in Portuguese). SAPO. 3 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  11. ^ Rico, Carolina (14 June 2018). "Rafael Leão rescinde contrato com o Sporting. É o nono" [Rafael Leão terminates contract with Sporting. Going nine] (in Portuguese). TSF. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Rafael Leao: The Lille forward dubbed the 'Portuguese Mbappe'". BBC Sport. 7 February 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  13. ^ "Rafael Leão au LOSC" [Rafael Leão to LOSC] (Press release) (in French). Lille OSC. 8 August 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  14. ^ "le Sporting Portugal déclare la guerre au Losc" [Sporting Portugal declares war on Losc] (in French). Le Point. 10 August 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  15. ^ "Rafael Leão voudrait déjà résilier avec le LOSC!" [Rafael Leão would already like to terminate with LOSC!] (in French). Foot Mercato. 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  16. ^ "Rafael Leão rescinde com o Lille" [Rafael Leão terminates his contract with Lille] (in Portuguese). Público. 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  17. ^ "Official - DNCG validates the 4 LOSC contracts, including Rafael Leão" (in French). Made in Foot. 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Lille against Marseille". EuroSport. 30 September 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  19. ^ Lafont, Romain (28 October 2018). "Leao rugit, Lille déroule" [Leao roars (pun on player's name, "Lion" in Portuguese), Lille unwind]. L'Équipe (in French). Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Un renfort offensif nommé Rui Fonte" [An attacking addition called Rui Fonte] (in French). Lille OSC. 1 September 2018. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  21. ^ "Official statement: Rafael Leão". A.C. Milan. 1 August 2019. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  22. ^ "AC Milan come up short against Udinese". A.C. Milan. 25 August 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  23. ^ "AC Milan 1–3 Fiorentina". BBC Sport. 29 September 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Rafael Leao (AC Milan) ordered by the CAS to pay 16.5 million euros to Sporting". L'Équipe (in French). 19 March 2020. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  25. ^ "Stefano Pioli: AC Milan boss signs new two-year contract". BBC Sport. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  26. ^ "Milan-Spezia 3-0: Hernandez between Leão's brace" [Milan-Spezia 3-0: Hernandez in mezzo alla doppietta di Leão] (in Italian). Eurosport. 4 October 2020. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  27. ^ Fallisi, Marco (29 October 2020). "Questo Milan non sbaglia un colpo: tris allo Sparta Praga ed è già fuga" [This Milan doesn't miss a beat: three of a kind at Sparta Prague and it's already an escape]. La Gazzetta dello Sport (in Italian). Retrieved 29 October 2020.
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  30. ^ "Giroud double fires AC Milan to win over Cagliari". ESPN. 29 August 2021. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  31. ^ McNulty, Phil (15 September 2021). "Liverpool 3–2 AC Milan". BBC Sport. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  32. ^ "AC Milan vs. Atlético Madrid (Sky Sports)". Sky Sports. 28 September 2021. Retrieved 11 October 2021.
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  34. ^ "AC MILAN V LAZIO: THE STATS FROM THE WIN IN THE COPPA ITALIA". acmilan. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  35. ^ "AC MILAN V SAMPDORIA: THE STATS FROM THE GAME". acmilan. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  36. ^ "AC MILAN WIN TO GO TOP". acmilan. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  37. ^ "ROSSONERI HELD TO A DRAW". acmilan. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  38. ^ "AC MILAN V UDINESE: THE NUMBERS FROM THE GAME". acmilan. Retrieved 27 February 2022.
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  43. ^ a b "MVP Serie A 2021/2022 – Rafael Leao Best Overall". Serie A. 22 May 2022. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
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  46. ^ a b "[Under-19] The UEFA technical team – Team of the Tournament". UEFA. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  47. ^ Fernandes, Mariana (25 May 2019). "Portugal vence Coreia do Sul na estreia no Mundial Sub-20 com golo de Trincão" [Portugal beat South Korea in opening game of the Under-20 World Cup with goal by Trincão]. Observador (in Portuguese). Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  48. ^ Andrade, David (10 November 2017). "Portugal empata na Roménia e complica apuramento" [Portugal draw in Romania and make qualification harder]. Público (in Portuguese). Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  49. ^ "Roménia S21 1–1 Portugal S21" [Romania U21 1–1 Portugal U21] (in Portuguese). SAPO. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  50. ^ "Portugal vence Bielorrússia e sobe à liderança do Grupo 7" [Portugal defeat Belarus and climb to first in Group 7]. Record (in Portuguese). 10 September 2019. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  51. ^ "Highlights, report: Germany beat Portugal for third U21 EURO title". UEFA.com. 6 June 2021. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  52. ^ "Seleção: Fonte, Trincão e Rafael Leão convocados" [National team: Fonte Trincão and Rafael Leão called up] (in Portuguese). TVI 24. 5 October 2021. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  53. ^ "Portugal 3–0 Qatar – Diogo Costa, Matheus Nunes & Rafael Leão make their Seleção debuts". PortuGOAL. 9 October 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  54. ^ a b c d "Rafael Leão". 24 May 2022. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  55. ^ Del Vecchio, Manuel (25 July 2020). "Pioli su Leao: "Ha un potenziale incredibile. Oggi è entrato bene ma può fare di più"" [Pioli on Leao: "He has an incredible potential. He came on well today but he can do better"] (in Italian). Milan News. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  56. ^ "'Better than Cristiano Ronaldo' – Rafael Leao sensational form no surprise to former coach". Goal. 10 February 2019. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  57. ^ "Jorge Jesus compara Rafael Leão a Jordão e faz revelação: "Nos treinos dá cabo do Piccini e do Coates"" [Jorge Jesus compares Rafael Leão to Jordão and makes revelation: "He kills Piccini and Coates in training"] (in Portuguese). SAPO. 12 February 2018. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  58. ^ "Is Rafael Leao really the new Henry? Ibrahimovic's 'little brother' finally realising potential at AC Milan".
  59. ^ Rafael Leão at Soccerway
  60. ^ "Rafael Leão". EU-Football.info. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
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External links[edit]