The Question About Rafael Leao’s Contract Extension With Serie A Reigning Champions AC Milan

Rafael Leao, AC Milan’s biggest offensive threat, has become one of the hottest names in European soccer.

Over the last year, his performances have drawn so much attention that in the latest transfer session, major clubs in England and Spain entered talks with AC Milan to potentially sign the 23-year-old Portuguese winger, whose price tag was set at no less than €120 million ($120m).

And while Leao’s outstanding soccer skills continue to attract eyeballs, his contract with the Rossoneri is set to expire in 2024. Given his importance to the club’s recent success, the reigning Serie A champions AC Milan have made it a priority to renew the terms of his deal and secure his talent for the years to come.

Leao, who joined AC Milan from France’s LOSC Lille in the summer of 2019, did not immediately take the Italian league by storm.

In fact, for quite some time since his arrival, his inconsistent output on the field earned him the reputation of being a raw, dormant talent, leaving many soccer fans wondering whether he would ever rise to the role of protagonist at AC Milan.

Last season, Leao did exactly that: In AC Milan’s starting formation that ended up lifting the Scudetto in May, Leao was the most decisive player, with his statistics reading 11 goals and 10 assists.

Lega Serie A, the governing body of Italy’s top-flight, acknowledged his incredible season by awarding him the 2021/22 Serie A MVP.

The new year started off in a similar fashion for Leao, who has already recorded three goals and three assists in the first six matches of the 2022/23 Serie A campaign. He also had one assist in the UEFA Champions League match that AC Milan tied against RedBull Salzburg.

What makes Leao stand out on the pitch is the effortlessness with which he runs past defenders with the ball at his feet. When it comes to beating the opponent in one-versus-one situations, Leao is simply lethal, and the second goal in the Milan derby from last week perfectly illustrates how shifty and elusive he can be.

Inevitably, major European clubs have been keeping an eye on the Portuguese winger, especially because he has not yet extended the terms of his deal at AC Milan.

Leao’s current contract, which Italian media estimate to sit around €1.5 million, expires on June 30, 2024. Soccer agent Jorge Mendes, who represents Leao as well as many world-class sports people like Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, has asked for a fivefold increase to Leao’s paycheck, according to Eurosport.

That would represent a significant salary bump, one that would make Leao collect about €7 million/year. According to wage estimates by Calcio e Finanza, this would turn him into the third highest-paid player in Serie A, behind only Inter Milan’s striker Romelu Lukaku’s and Juventus’s midfielder Paul Pogba.

Over the last year, AC Milan have seen three of their most valuable players leave the club for free, a scenario that clubs tend to avoid by either selling the player prior to the contract’s expiry date or agreeing on an extension.

In the summer of 2021, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu respectively joined Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan as free agents after refusing to accept the terms of AC Milan’s renewal offer. Similarly, Franck Kessie, a regular starter in the Rossoneri squad that clinched the 2021/22 Scudetto, signed with Spain’s Barcelona for free in July.

It is no secret that Serie A teams struggle to match the kind of salary granted by big spenders in England, Spain or France. At the same time, the cases of Donnarumma, Calhanoglu and Kessie show how AC Milan have become financially very disciplined, refusing to accommodate a player’s requests when they are considered to be disproportionate compared to the club’s operating budget.

For these reasons, Leao’s intentions and motivations will play a major role in dictating the outcome of the ongoing negotiations over his contract extension.