Profiling Lille Teen Sensation & Barcelona Target Rafael Leao

Lille OSC have had a terrific season thus far in Ligue 1.

They currently sit in second place and have a four point lead over third placed Olympique Lyonnais.

Not bad when you consider the fact that Lille finished in seventeenth position last term and just avoided relegation.

A big part of the club’s success has been down to their young stars performing to the highest of standards.

Twenty-three year old Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe has been Lille’s talismanic figure. He scares opposition defences with his direct style, his prolific goalscoring and his uncanny awareness that allows him to consistently make the right decisions.

Pepe leads the club’s scoring charts with sixteen league goals and he’s also his side’s leading assist maker too, with eight assists to his name. Not bad for a player that’s played on the right-wing all season.

But it would be an injustice to say that Lille OSC are just a one man team.

Brazilian Thiago Mendes keeps things ticking over in midfield and the twenty-six year old doesn’t mind a tackle either. Jonathan Bamba has excelled on the left-wing, adding to his team’s cause with nine Ligue 1 strikes.

But there’s a young striker that, along with Pepe, is catching the attention of Europe’s top sides. That youngster is Rafael Leão.

The nineteen year old Portuguese under-21 international arrived on a free transfer last summer from Sporting Lisbon. He was one of Sporting’s stars that terminated their own contracts after players and staff were attacked by fans at the Portuguese club’s training base.

The young forward had made three substitute top tier appearances during his stint in Lisbon, scoring a goal and creating an assist.

His choice in going to Les Dogues has already been vindicated.

Leão could’ve walked into pretty much any top club’s academy but he was never going to be guaranteed first team football at a Manchester City or a Manchester United.

Lille have a rich history of giving young players a chance in their first team, as long as they’re good enough. The biggest success story in that regard is obviously Eden Hazard but Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Digne, Idrissa Gueye and Peter Odemwingie all flourished as young players plying their trade with the Ligue 1 team.

If you look at just those five ex-players you’ll see players that have played at the highest level at clubs in Europe’s top leagues and they all became internationals too.

So Rafael must’ve have looked at Lille and thought that he’d be playing regularly in a strong European league and a top flight that often gets looted of it’s top talent by the biggest teams in the world!

Teenager Leão hasn’t had to wait too long for his first-team chances. He made his debut back in September as Lille trounced Marseille in a 3-0 win!

Rafael would score in his first Ligue 1 start against Caen. Importantly Les Dogues boss Christope Galtier trusted his young recruit to lead the line as a solo striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. In that game the hitman completed 77% of his passes, had two shots at his opponent’s goal and won his only aerial duel (Stats from Whoscored). It was a fairly mature first start with the starting eleven.

He’s now made fifteen league appearances for Lille, hitting the net seven times and creating one assist. In actual fact, Leão has actually scored all his goals and created his assist for Pepe in his last eight Ligue 1 appearances!

Leão looks to be settling into life at Stade Pierre-Mauroy and becoming one of LOSC’s top stars. That seems to be echoed by La Liga giants FC Barcelona, who have been recently linked with the young forward (From Football Espana).

So why would a side like Barca be interested in Rafael Leão?

Well he’s already shown us that he can get goals in a very strong league like Ligue 1.

The striker also has terrific pace that can get him away from opposition defenders. He also has the physical attributes not to get easily bullied, hence why LOSC coach Galtier has started him as a lone number nine. The forward is also good in the air, making him a threat from various areas.

When it comes to finishing, the youngster seems to like early one touch finishes. That not only shows us that he has confidence in his own ability but it also makes it tougher for goalkeepers, who struggle to set themselves given the little time Rafael gives them to do so.

Sporting Lisbon youth coach Tiago Fernandes said this about Rafael (Source –

“I pushed [then-Sporting coach] Jorge Jesus to take him in the first team and I said to him: ‘Yes, Gelson Martins has talent but Rafael is the best player in the history of the Sporting Academy’. At youth level, he was better than Cristiano Ronaldo,”

Saying he was better than Cristiano Ronaldo at that stage is a huge statement and that’s exactly why a team like Barcelona would be interested in Leão.

Rafael Leão’s Lille form will have only increased interest in the young star, who has also been compared to Kylian Mbappe.

You can bet your bottom dollar that other top club’s like Man Utd, Man City and Juventus will also be keeping tabs on the Portuguese forward.

Personally I don’t see any rush for Leão to leave Lille, but when he does it could be to a huge club  and for a big fee!

One Response to “Profiling Lille Teen Sensation & Barcelona Target Rafael Leao”

  1. Hi mate,

    Just wondering whether my football website could get added to your blogroll list with details as


    title: Flaming Hairdryer

    Thanks mate!


Leave a Reply