Rafael Leao warned against Chelsea transfer as Ibrahimovic insists Milan star would ‘have to start from scratch’ if he leaves San Siro


Zlatan Ibrahimovic has urged his AC Milan teammate Rafael Leao to resist the temptation to join Chelsea in the January transfer window. The Portugal international was limited to a bit-part role during his side’s run to the World Cup quarter- final but still managed to enhance his burgeoning reputation with a series of eye-catching cameo performances.

Leao’s future is the subject of intense speculation at present with no resolution to the impasse over contract negotiations that have been dragging on for well over six months in sight. The 23-year-old’s current deal expires in 18 months’ time and Milan can ill-afford to lose a player who has been so crucial to their recent success for significantly less than his market value.

Blues boss Graham Potter has made no secret of his interest in the versatile forward who is impressed against Chelsea in the Champions League earlier this season.

‘You can see his quality and what he brings,’ Potter said last month. ‘He’s part of a strong team, a strong club and a strong set-up, and we respect that.’

Speaking about his future earlier this month, meanwhile, Leao indicated his focus for the time being was on his international commitments but talks would re-start imminently. He said:

‘I will speak to AC Milan [again] about my contract situation once the World Cup is over. ‘We had a positive meeting with [technical director] Paolo Maldini before the World Cup, it was a good one – we’ll enter into details after the break.’

Ibrahimovic has watched Leao’s development at close quarters and is confident the youngster would be best served by continuing his footballing education in Serie A. He said:

‘Of course, Milan is the right environment for him. Just look at his growth, when he arrived, he was far from the decisive player he is today. Here he is very important for us, elsewhere would he be as important? He would have to start from scratch, you can’t be sure he would be ready right away.

‘At Milan he has confidence, space and freedom, which is not a given at another club, it’s up to you. Besides, you can see that he is happy here, by now he is laughing even before scoring. He is the young man who has grown the most. ‘Theo has improved so much, De Ketelaere is strong, and patience is needed. But Leao is on another level, above average. He lacks a step, he will only do it when he is fully convinced of his abilities.

‘Today even he doesn’t really know how strong he is. Then he will be really scary. And the price will go up.’

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