Despite being dubbed the ‘Portuguese Mbappe’ by Lille fans, Rafael Leao insists he has not finished developing as a player
Lille forward Rafael Leao has enjoyed an excellent start to life in Ligue 1 but has dismissed comparisons with France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe, saying: “I still have everything to prove.”
Leao joined Christophe Galtier’s men from Sporting in August and has since scored seven goals in 14 league appearances to help Lille rise to second in the table.
The 19-year-old’s skilful performances on the flanks have led to him being dubbed the ‘Portuguese Mbappe’ by supporters, but he played down the parallels between himself and the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
“I try not to pay attention,” Leao told Le Parisien. “Mbappe is an accomplished player.
“He has already shown everyone his potential and won several big titles. I still have everything to prove, many things to learn to become a great striker like him.
“He is a source of inspiration, a model. But I’m not Mbappe. I have my own story and I am my own way.”
Leao left his boyhood club Sporting following a tumultuous period in 2018, during which supporters invaded the training ground and assaulted members of the club’s staff including players.
He made just four first-team appearances for the Lisbon club but was nevertheless the subject of speculation linking him with Europe’s top clubs, including Manchester City.
But Leao insisted Lille’s offer of regular football was the correct choice, saying: “For the young player that I am, it is important to chain the matches in order to progress.
“What’s the use of being in a big club if I do not play?
“I prefer to play in a team that gives me play time and allows me to grow.
“When [Lille sporting director] Luis Campos called me to express his interest, I saw no reason to refuse. He told me about the project and introduced the team he was setting up.
“But what pushed me to come here was especially the possibility of having play time.”