Why Milan starlet still has huge amount to prove as he’s tipped to fill crucial void

Last summer, Milan completed the signing of Rafael Leao from Lille as he arrived to form part of a young squad with a long-term plan in mind.

As per Goal.com, the Rossoneri splashed out around €35m on the youngster in what was undoubtedly one of the bigger gambles of that particular transfer market.

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For a player who hadn’t proven himself at the highest level on a consistent basis, it was a risk to make such a hefty investment, but the raw talent and quality was on display last season and if developed in the right way, there were certainly signs to suggest that he could be a star for the future.

The 20-year-old hasn’t yet proven that’s the case in a Milan shirt, as he’s bagged two goals and two assists in 22 appearances so far this season, as it remains to be seen when the campaign concludes given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

That tells a story in itself in terms of how he’s struggled to be decisive, and with La Gazzetta dello Sport tipping him to be given a major role in the side with doubts over Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future at Milan, there is a long way to go before he can be crowned as his successor to lead the line for us next season if the talismanic figure doesn’t return.

Positive signs, but all too rare

His exciting attributes have certainly been on show this season. From his blistering pace to his ability to take on players and beat them as well as the directness with which he plays which adds a different dynamic to our attack, he has had the Milan faithful off our seats at times.

However, the biggest problem is that it hasn’t been consistent enough and he needs to be more effective in the final third if he’s going to make a lasting impression at Milan.

Without trying to be too harsh, he has also had the body language of a player who feels as though he’s already made it having landed such a big move. For a player his age, you expect much more urgency, work ethic and desire on and off the ball, and that’s something we need from every player given our current position.

The fact that he played just 45 minutes combined in the last four Serie A games before the break arguably suggests that Pioli has picked up on something too that has warranted him being relegated to the bench.

Admittedly, he deserves time to settle as for a young player to adapt to a new country, culture, league and squad, it will have been difficult. Perhaps there’s even an argument to suggest that he can only be fairly judged next season after he’s had time to fully settle and feel comfortable in the set-up.

The problem though is that if he is to be handed the keys to the attack as suggested in the report above, and with GdS doubling down on the suggestion that Ibrahimovic will likely leave this summer, he has to be ready to take on that responsibility if we’re going to put that level of trust in him.

It’s hoped that he’s learnt a lot from Ibrahimovic on and off the pitch since they started working together in January. From Ibra’s wealth of experience to the quality he has shown week in and week out leading the line up front on his own to the winning mentality he developed over the years, Leao should be aware that that level of guidance is priceless and could be crucial to his own career if he heeds the advice.

Attitude has to be spot on

As noted by Football Italia in November, Stefano Pioli was asked about Leao following the defeat to Lazio.

“It’s true, I expected more from him tonight. When coming on, he was meant to give changes of pace, fresh energy, work with the team. He has a lot of potential, but he absolutely has to do more. His contribution tonight was not up to his standards.”

Such a candid assessment is exactly what Leao needs at this stage of his career as he can’t simply be praised when things go well and be given the benefit of the doubt when he doesn’t contribute.

That’s the key concern if Milan’s plan involves the young Portuguese forward stepping in to fill the void left behind by Ibrahimovic. His attitude, temperament and quality needs to be spot on every single game if he’s firstly going to develop into the top player that many believe he will become and more importantly, if he’s going to fire us to success in the future.

The recent poll below suggests that a significant proportion MilanTalk followers are backing Leao to have a big future. On what I’ve seen thus far, there’s arguably more hype than substance, and while of course the hope is that the talented 20-year-old goes on to become a legitimate star in a Milan shirt, it’s a cause for concern right now if the club are going to go all in on him so quickly without tangible evidence to suggest that he’s ready to step up.