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Rafael Leao contract renewal at AC Milan becoming increasingly distant: Where does his future lie?

Rafael Leao's future looks increasingly likely to lie away from AC Milan, and his omission from Stefano Pioli's XI for the Derby della Madonnina loss to Inter hasn't helped things.

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Rafael Leao celebrates. (@acmilan)

The future of Portuguese forward Rafael Leao at AC Milan is in doubt after he was dropped from the starting line-up for the second Serie A match in a row by Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli.

Leao came off the bench in the 5-2 defeat to Sassuolo as well as the 1-0 loss to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina and he barely made an impact in either match. With the 23-year-old under contract until June 2024 and the Diavolo sliding further down the table, it seems unlikely that the left winger will sign a new deal.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that he is not training as hard as usual and he is not displaying much of his blistering speed. However, after representing Portugal at the 2022 World Cup, it is possible that he might have needed more time to recover from the tournament.

Rafael Leao celebrates scoring away at Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League (@acmilan)

Pioli tries to justify dropping Leao

Pioli implemented the 3-5-2 formation for the Derby della Madonnina, with Olivier Giroud and Divock Origi starting up front for AC Milan. Although the duo failed to score, the Rossoneri coach still believes his decision not to start Leao was justified.

“The choice of playing with two strikers closer together was to make Inter’s defence difficult,” Pioli said after the match.

“That’s why I chose Giroud and Origi. Leao must continue to work and stay active throughout the match, he’s a player we’re counting on a lot. Would I do it again? Yes, the choices I made are the best because of what I saw during the week.”

Leao wants AC Milan to compensate Sporting CP

AC Milan directors Ricky Massara and Paolo Maldini have offered a salary worth €6.5 million, but that is not enough to satisfy Leao, who wants the Rossoneri to pay his former club Sporting CP €19 million and cover his legal fees. The Portuguese side want to be compensated after the winger unilaterally terminated his contract with the club before joining Lille in 2018.

Leao also wants the Italian giants to lower his buyout clause to half the current figure, which is now at €150 million. Maldini had hoped that all this would have been resolved by the end of January but it is not the case. Chelsea had been linked with the Portugal international in the summer and perhaps other suits might be alerted to the AC Milan forward.

How much of a loss would Leao be for AC Milan?

Although he took a bit of time to adapt to the technical and tactical nature of Italian football, Leao has gone to become a prized asset at AC Milan. Since arriving from Lille in 2019, he has scored 36 goals and supplied 30 assists in 143 competitive matches for the Rossoneri.

The 23-year-old was voted the Serie A MVP for 2021/22, and he was an influential part of their scudetto triumph, scoring 11 times and providing 10 assists in 34 games. He has been decisive for the Diavolo, and he adds something different to the Milan side with his pace, trickery, and ability to create something out of nothing.

Losing Leao would be detrimental for AC Milan. Not only do the Rossoneri look more predictable, but they would also be without a player that they can build a future around, and as talented as Ante Rebic is, the Croatia international has a questionable temper to say the least. The Portuguese forward has become a fan favourite thanks to his dazzling skills and scudetto heroics.

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