Serie A, the premier football league of Italy, is littered with young players keen to make their mark.
FIFA 23 rankings are proof of this, with youngsters getting upgrades and toppling some of the known names of the league.
Rafael Leao is one such youngster. The Serie A MVP Award winner in 2021-22, the player ended the season with 11 goals and 10 assists.
He is the youngest of the four MVP awardees given to date, and the only player from Milan to win one, following in the footsteps of previous winners like Ronaldo, Dybala and Lukaku.
Leao started his professional career in Portugal with Sporting CP, before moving to Lille in France for free.
His 8-goal season was enough for AC Milan to gamble on the player, who spent €35 million in 2019 to bring the Portuguese to Italy.
By 2021, Leao had already scored 10 goals for Milan in Serie A, making him the second youngest foreign player to do so, only behind Alexandre Pato.
While a household name in Milan now, Leao’s arrival in 2019 was largely overshadowed by another household name.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined the club the same summer window as Leao, starting his second stint at the club after first playing here between 2010-2012.
Learning your trade under the legendary Swede can be beneficial to anyone, as Leao mentioned when speaking to Outpump, an online magazine, over the international break.
The young striker expressed his appreciation towards Zlatan, stating that it was Ibra’s advice and mentoring that helped Rafael thrive under the then-new coach Stefano Pioli.
The 23-year-old told Fotbollskanalen: “When you join a team like this you know you have to be a winner. You feel it, you live it. After a process of transition, I became another person and another player thanks to my family, Pioli and Ibra.”
“I keep him [Ibrahimovic] close to me every day. He is an example. He taught me the importance of asking and staying focused—not as professionals or colleagues, but as men.”
“Now the next goal is to become a protagonist and starter in Portugal. If there is a chance to win, well, then it will be very nice.”
Leao has previously mentioned how it is to play with a legend like Ibra.
This is not the first time Ibra’s mentoring has been highlighted. When at Manchester United, young stars like Rashford and Martial too spoke highly of the Swede.
With a loud voice and a huge dressing room presence, there have been calls for the player to get into coaching and management after he retires.
Well, if he can keep developing young stars and keep supporting them like we’ve seen he can, then there will be no shortage of takers for the talisman.
And as for Leao, the player has started where he left off, notching three goals and six assists in eight games, and we’re sure this is all in no small part down to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.