Theo Hernandez and Rafa Leao: The next €100m superstars
AC Milan are almost there. After 11 years without winning the Scudetto, they have half a hand on the Serie A trophy following Sunday’s memorable 2-0 win over Atalanta.
This win opened up a five-point lead over champions Inter, who play Cagliari away later on Sunday evening.
If Inter fail to beat the Sardinians, Milan are champions. If Inter do win, then the Rossoneri just need a draw away at Sassuolo on the final day to get over the line.
There was no doubt who the heroes were at a packed San Siro on Sunday.
It was a nervy first 55 minutes in which a nervous-looking Milan team made numerous basic errors and created virtually nothing. Was the pressure getting to an overwhelmingly young team?
Rafa Leao answered the question as he exhibited all of his lightning pace to race past Teun Koopmeiners and dispatch the ball through the legs of Juan Musso. 1-0 Milan and the San Siro erupted.
The Portuguese has exploded into the most terrifying attacking player in Serie A this season.
He has been pivotal in Milan’s recent Scudetto run, which has now extended to 15 games unbeaten. A fortnight ago he hit a late winner to beat Fiorentina, while last week he turned around a 1-0 deficit at Verona with two sublime assists for Sandro Tonali as Milan recovered to win 3-1.
Rafael Leão's last five Serie A games for AC Milan:— Football Talent Scout - Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) May 15, 2022
vs Genoa ⚽️
vs Lazio 🅰️
vs Fiorentina ⚽️
vs Verona 🅰️🅰️
vs Atalanta ⚽️
To say that Rafa has been absolutely crucial in Milan's Scudetto battle is to say nothing. 🔴⚫️ pic.twitter.com/jn5UAXHqKZ
"He has the qualities to reach the top of Europe and the world,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli gushed.
"He reminds me of Thierry Henry, but it is true that Rafa must be himself. Leao is an extraordinary player.”
Rafa now has 14 goals and nine assists from his wide role this season, but none of his goals as important as today.
Wanted by a host of top European clubs, including Pep’s Manchester City, Leao is not the only Milan player who is worth over €100 million now.
Theo Hernandez is worth that alone based on his Puskas Award contender against Atalanta on Sunday.
He doubled Milan’s lead with 15 minutes to go after a simply sensational goal that would be worthy of any title victory.
The France left back picked the ball up deep inside his own half on the left, before driving diagonally at the Atalanta defence towards the right-hand side. He left a trail of opponents in his wake before cutting back towards the left and angling a strike into the bottom corner.
🎥 | Theo Hernandez’s superb solo goal against Atalantapic.twitter.com/ZC4zYhxZ7q— Milan Eye (@MilanEye) May 15, 2022
Although a different type of goal, it brought back memories to George Weah’s famous length-of-the-pitch goal for Milan against Verona in 1996.
Theo is also wanted by many of Europe’s top clubs, with PSG long-term admirers.
He seems destined to become the best in the world in his position sooner rather than later.
But both Rafa Leao, 22, and Theo, 24, are highly unlikely to be going anywhere this summer. Theo recently signed a new contract until 2026, while Rafa is in talks over a new deal too.
With Milan in takeover talks, both youngsters will be central to the club going forward.
Just as they have been central in what will hopefully be a long overdue Scudetto.