“Football is music, dance and harmony.
And there is nothing more joyful than the bouncing ball”
If we think of the ultimate expression of joy in the world of football, the greatest exponent, has to be Ronaldo De Assis Moreira, known to all as Ronaldinho. In every match, the Brazilian footballer dispensed not only flashes of genius and quality, but also so many smiles that led many children to fall in love with football, bringing the “Joga Bonito” phenomenon to the world.
In Portugal, one of these children that seems to have learned very well the concept of joy while playing is Rafael Leão: he has so many similarities not only in the way of playing but in smiles dispensed through the game and touching the ball.
His abilities to dribble, as the Brazilian fantasist used to do, and to create numerical superiority are an essential weapon for AC Milan, especially considering the lack of capacities in Serie A players in these specific aspects. As the data says among European leagues, Serie A is the league where fewer dribbles and 1-on-1s are attempted.
For a boy born in Almada, a town in the Setubal district, very close to Lisbon, Sporting Lisbon was a natural choice. After a few games in the B team, he made his debut in the 2017/2018 Portuguese Championship, collecting only 3 appearances with 1 goal and 1 assist: this was enough for Lille to decide to take him to France the following season.
After an excellent performance, AC Milan decided to buy the player to implement what would later prove to be the fundamental revolution which brought the club back to win in Italy after 10 years, with the Portuguese striker among the protagonists.
Last season was indeed his best one both in terms of playing and of goals and assists, 11 and 10 respectively.
In fact, it is no coincidence that major clubs, such as Chelsea, in the summer market session have made significant offers for the young man who, at only 23 years old, seems to be close to his definitive consecration. In 34 appearances, averaging 78 minutes per game, he was the best in total attempted dribbles and successful dribbles in the entire Italian league, with an average of 2.9 per game (60% successful).
Throughout the season he maintained an average WSF Performance Index of 6.3. This year, also thanks to the recent double in the Derby against Inter Milan, he is on the average of 6.7, with 5 matches, having already scored 3 goals and 2 assists.
He also has good qualities in passing: last season he had an average of 20.6 attempted passes per game, of which 15.4 successful (75.4%); while in these last matches he is increasing his stats with 19 successful passes with an accuracy of 82%.
The Portuguese striker, despite his height (1.88 m tall and 81 kg), does not exert a physical dominance over his opponents, so that he scored only one header goal since his arrival in Milan. Nevertheless he manages to win 50% of duels, only 0.8 of these are air duels, attempting 10.8 per game and winning 5.4 of them.
His style of play however leads him to take risks with the ball at his feet, this therefore translates into about 13 lost balls per game, which for the amount of play produced is not that much.
The skill that undoubtedly needs to be improved to make the Milan striker one of the world’s top strikers is shooting.
He is capable of creating many chances of finding himself often in front of goal but not to capitalize them: this fact is confirmed by a low shot conversion rate of 11.3, placing him among not even the top 100 players in Serie A.
In 2021/2022 he shot 3 times per game of which 1.1 on goal; this year he increased that figure to 4.6 and 1.6 and the start suggests an important season.
AC Milan is looking to reconfirm itself in Italy but also in Europe after a targeted buying campaign made to be competitive.
The Portuguese striker this year more than ever seems to be at the heart of the project, always with a smile when he has the ball between his feet, a great spot for football and anyone who watches it.
by Giorgio Patania, Elisa Zanchetta