Leao and that baby goal at Porto. But today it’s a completely different Rafa

In 2018 he scored the first goal among professionals at Dragao, becoming the youngest to do so with the Sporting shirt. Then it was a promise, now it’s grown …

Request. What do Casillas, Doumbia, Bruno Fernandes and Rui Patricio have in common? A couple of Roma, and we also know who, the other two different titles won in Portugal. Each of them, however, a fifth player. Ten letters: Rafael Leao. They were all on the pitch when he scored his first professional goal.

do you remember the port?

Context: February 2018, 25th day of the Portuguese Liga. Rafa is 18 years old, plays in Sporting and is one of those talents that if you see him play then you remember him. Sometimes listless, still others devastating, his old coaches called him “the Lion”. One like this, from “yes day” and “no day”. When he decided that this afternoon was going well, then there was really none for anyone. Like in that match: Rafael enters in the 44th minute of the first half and takes just one minute to make his mark, right under Casillas’ legs. Until then no player younger than him had scored a goal for Sporting at the Dragão. The coach is Jorge Jesus, a Portuguese guru today at Benfica. In the post game he gets unbalanced and says that the boy will become “a great player”. It just needed a little time.

new rafa

This year is another Leao, and after three years he finds Porto again, this time at San Siro. It has become more concrete, stronger, more confident. Against Atletico, in the Champions League, he made the crossbar tremble with an overhead kick from 18 meters, and never mind if he was offside (which was later denied by the replay). The gesture matters. And you do similar things when you are confident: this year he has already scored 5 goals in 14 games, 13 as a starter. Last year he stopped at 7, the first at 6. In the Champions League he punished Atletico. The growth is also evident in the numbers: Leao – according to what Kickest collected – is the fifth player in Serie A who dribbles the most (21, after Felipe Anderson, Boga, Zaniolo and Anguissa), the first AC Milan player for intercepted balls (20) and tackles won (57). Symbol of growth, also because Pioli had told him: “He must learn to have more fun on the pitch”. And in fact now he smiles. All he has to do is touch the ball, jump the man, try a shot around. Against Roma he had scored with his head after having skipped Rui Patricio with a touch, thanks to a chest from Ibra. Canceled for offside by Zlatan. There too, as against Atletico, the gesture is there.

in youth league

The Leao of Sporting had told us by Tiago Fernandes, one of his first coaches in the youth teams. “Strongest ever seen,” he said. If it hadn’t been for him in Lisbon they would have discarded him, but he insisted and did well. “I had a little gem in my hands, but he had to understand it too”. The year of the goal at Porto is also the one in which he scores three times for Juve in the Youth League, two in the first leg and once in the return. Sporting wins, the bianconeri managers are bewitched by that eighteen year old with an easy dribbling. A few months later he will punish Porto al Dragão. The rest is a story of talent, grooming, dribbling, trust. And now also of continuity.

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Leao and that baby goal at Porto. But today it’s a completely different Rafa

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