Chelsea will be grateful that a move for AC Milan forward Rafael Leao never materialised when he was being targeted by the Blues a year ago. Leao was said to have been admired by Chelsea in the summer of 2023, with the Portuguese striker coming off the back of a season in which he scored 16 goals in all competitions.
Leao helped to fire Milan to the Serie A title just 12 months earlier, with his prolific form at the San Siro leading to firm interest from across Europe. Chelsea were thought to have been among his biggest suitors in their search for a new striker to replace Romelu Lukaku, but the move never came about and he ended up staying in Italy.
The west Londoners first explored a move for Leao after Milan’s title-winning season in 2022, at which point his stock could not have been much higher. They were prepared to offer around £100million for his signature, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, and renewed their pursuit a year later before Leao ended the speculation by penning a new deal at Milan.
At the time, it seemed as though Chelsea had missed out on the perfect long-term solution to their issues at the top of the pitch. However, their failure to sign Leao has emerged as a blessing in disguise given his lack of recent form, which has seen him go nearly four months without scoring a league goal.
Leao has only found the back of the net on three occasions in Serie A, with his last goal coming against Hellas Verona near the end of September. He has contributed in other ways by chipping in with six assists but there is no denying that his goal return is a meagre one for a player of his calibre.
The Milan forward is tied down until the summer of 2028, having signed a long-term contract extension just over a year ago. He is said to have a release clause in the region of £150m, which top clubs will be reluctant to consider paying unless he manages to get back to his best in front of goal.
Leao recently insisted that he is hoping to reach the same levels as Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi in spite of his ongoing barren spell, telling Sky Sport Italia that he can become one of the world’s best players if he keeps setting up goals for his team-mates.
“I’m not selfish,” explained Leao. “I can score goals but I can also provide assists, I pass to my team-mates. At these levels the numbers make the difference because Mbappe, [Erling] Haaland and Messi make numbers that speak for themselves. When I think like them, I will get to that level.”
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