'The Portuguese Mbappe'
He may have only arrived at Lille last summer, but the 19-year old has already made a startling impact on the French club - and is already being dubbed the Portuguese version of Kylian Mbappe by parts of the media.
And his recent form has done little to deter those looking to make such extravagant comparisons as he has continued to go from strength to strength, playing at a level that vastly exceeds the expectations of a player of his tender age.
Indeed, with five goals in his last 6 league matches, Rafael Leão has demonstrated pace, physicality and composure the like of which is rarely seen in such a young striker, and the comparisons with the French World Cup winner may not be so farfetched after all.
Indeed, the Portugal U21 international has been linked with some of the biggest clubs across the continent, none fewer than Bernardo Silva’s current side Manchester City.
His efforts have therefore not gone unnoticed, and his contribution in recent weeks have helped Lille sustain their lofty position in the French top flight, currently sitting second, occupying a Champions League spot and only behind French heavyweights PSG in the rankings.
And it really comes as little surprise. Having come through the Sporting academy, the young Portuguese striker was showing talent beyond his years from a very early age, the type of player you often only see once in a generation. Despite not being given a significant run-out at Sporting, his performances for the youth side showed a great deal of promise; last season, in fact, he played 11 games for the Sporting B team in the Portuguese second tier, scoring 6 goals in the process, while he also impressed in the UEFA Youth League, grabbing a remarkable 5 goals and 3 assists in just 6 outings in the youth equivalent of the Champions League.
Sporting may not have shown a huge deal of faith in him, but the fans were truly excited about the development of one of their own - and he showed that their faith was not misplaced, managing to find the back of the net on 2 occasions for the Lisbon club’s senior side despite only playing 118 minutes worth of football for the Portuguese outfit last campaign.
It was meant to be the start of something special at the club. With such high hopes on the talented teen, he was the out-and-out striker Portugal had been calling out for for years, the type of focal point up front that Portuguese teams in years gone by have severely lacked, and Sporting were anticipating that he would be their next star, a player that would lead the line for the next few years before being sold on for tens of millions of euros.
But, as is often the case in football, things didn’t go to plan, and the youngster decided to follow in the path of star players such as Rui Patricio, William Carvalho and Gelson Martins in unilaterally terminating his contract with the club after the violent scenes in Alcochete.
It meant he left the club immediately - and for nothing. Sporting saw one of their prized assets leave the club before he even had the chance to truly represent them, and they got no money in return.
Sporting’s loss was Lille’s gain, who snapped up the youngster in the blink of an eye, proving one of the most shrewd transfers in modern history.
It was a slow start for Leão though, it has to be said. In fact, there was grave concern that his career at Lille would come to an end before it had even started due to conerns with Financial Fair Play. It looked as if the transfer was turning into something of a nightmare for the 19-year old, nothing short of a fiasco, as he threw away a bright future with his boyhood club to start a new career abroad, only to see his move put on hold and his development hindered.
Ultimately though, the transfer eventually went through and, despite having to wait until the eight gameweek of the season to make his debut for the club, he has now started to show his true capabilities - and is already being compared to the greatest young forward currently playing the game.
The future is bright for Leão, and it is therefore difficult to envisage him staying at Lille for too much longer. Where he will end up, however, is far more uncertain, with so many potential suitors looking to bring him in.