Portugal international Rafael Leao, a pivotal figure in AC Milan’s recent successes, sat down with Che Tempo Che Fa to discuss his upcoming book, his career, and the challenges of combating racism in football:
“I like to smile and respond to people with optimism; that is how I approach life. It’s my way of saying I don’t need to use words; I can smile. Perhaps I could’ve waited a bit longer before writing a book, but I wanted people to get to know how I am in private too, so they could understand who I really am.”
Leao’s career trajectory shifted significantly after his move from Lille to AC Milan in 2019, where he had the opportunity to work with legendary figures like Paolo Maldini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Maldini really helped me at the start and I miss him. He told me off a few times too, as he should, and has a strong personality. As for Zlatan, he is incredible, and we are really happy to still have him here with us because he is a great motivator.”
Despite persistent transfer rumors linking him to clubs like Chelsea, PSG, or Newcastle United, Leao emphatically stated, “I never thought of leaving Milan. This club really helped me grow up, to mature. I had difficulties at the start; it’s not like it looks on television.”
Reflecting on Milan’s recent successes, including winning the Scudetto in the 2021-22 campaign and reaching the Champions League semi-finals, Leao expressed his emotional connection to the team.
“I did well in the Champions League and want to do even more with Milan. As for the Scudetto, it was so emotional, I will never forget that day. We felt so sure that we’d win it; I remember bursting into tears under the Curva Sud along with my parents.”
However, this season has brought its challenges, and Milan recently faced a 2-2 draw with Bologna, where both Olivier Giroud and Theo Hernandez missed penalties.
“I did say I might take the next penalty, but Giroud has always been a specialist, so he will do well next time.”
The conversation turned serious when discussing teammate Mike Maignan, who recently faced racist abuse from Udinese fans during a match.
“He was annoyed and he didn’t want to play, as it is not the first time this has happened, but we stayed by his side. It is sad for him and all black players; we have to fight racism every day and we thank Milan for all they did. We must fight. Unfortunately, I doubt racism will ever be completely eradicated, but we still have to fight.”
In a powerful gesture, Milan stopped play during the Bologna game at San Siro at the 16th minute, corresponding to Maignan’s jersey number, to display a quote from Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”