Manchester City lead the race for Sporting star Rafael Leao
Manchester City lead the race for Sporting star Rafael Leao
The English Premier League club — which has outspent all domestic and European rivals since Pep Guardiola’s appointment as coach — has offered Sporting a fee of €25 million ($30.7 million) for the 18-year-old, according to sources familiar with the approach.
Aware of competing interest from Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid for a forward whose technical qualities and 1.88m physique have seen leading scouts place his potential on the same level as Kylian Mbappe, Sporting have already fielded a series of inquiries over his availability. The Lisbon club extended Leao's contract until 2022 in October, increasing the player's release clause to €60m.
The Lisbon club extended Leao’s contract until 2022 in October, increasing the player’s release clause to €60 million.
Leao made his senior debut the same month, scoring in a 20-minute Taca de Portugal appearance as a substitute and on Sunday, Sporting coach Jorge Jesus brought the teenager off the bench to help break a 0-0 Primeira Liga deadlock against Feirense.
The remainder of Leao’s playing time this season has been spent with Sporting’s B and UEFA Youth League sides. His progress through the Portugal national team’s age grades was accelerated again in November with a debut for the under-21s.
“He is a disconcerting player, powerful one-on-one,” said Jesus. “I gave him the opportunity to play. He is a strong kid and he was serene; everything he did was done with quality. We will work step-by-step with Leao, who is one of the great talents our academy has.”
Under Guardiola’s direction, City have markedly lowered the age profile of their senior squad in the last 20 months, creating a group of players with the potential to develop together into European champions. The focus on younger, more malleable individuals also suits Guardiola’s coaching style.
The move for Leao has parallels to the manner in which City acted to sign Gabriel Jesus in the summer of 2016 ahead of competing interest from Barcelona and Juventus.
A willingness to pay what was perceived at the time of the transaction to be an inflated price for the Brazilian enabled City to secure a forward who then rapidly established himself as one of the Premier League’s most impressive talents.
City also attempted to bring Mbappe from AS Monaco last summer, with Guardiola meeting the France international in person before he agreed to join Paris Saint-Germain in a record deal for a teenage footballer.
Guardiola asked his employers to add another forward in the January window, and has long harbored doubts about club-record scorer Sergio Aguero’s suitability to his tactical plans.
City’s preparations for the Catalan’s third campaign as manager are already well advanced with a deal in place to sign Brazil international Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, as first revealed by Arab News.
The midfielder would have moved to England last month if his current club had permitted the early transfer of an individual who is expected to share holding duties with compatriot Fernandinho, while also offering options as an attacking midfielder.
The Abu Dhabi owned club has committed €583 million to transfer fees alone in the first four windows of Guardiola’s reign. City’s cumulative investment in such transactions is more than 50 percent higher than their closest domestic rival over the same period, yet their manager recently commented on the limitations of his budget.
“Maybe it will happen in the future but so far we have not spent 100 million on one player, or 90 million or 80 million,” Guardiola said last month. “We cannot pay that right now, they tell me. That is the truth. Of course we have spent a lot of money, but only the same as other teams. I can assure you that we are not the only team in the world that spends money. There are many others.”
Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London
- New boss Jorge Jesus to give start to new star signing after $17 million move from Al-Ain last week.
- Al-Hilal coach keen to put on a good show in London and start season with silverware against Al-Ittihad.
LONDON: Jorge Jesus confirmed Omar Abdulrahman will make his Al-Hilal debut in the Saudi Super Cup final against Al-Ittihad on Saturday.
The UAE playmaker joined the Saudi Pro League champions last week in a loan deal from Al-Ain that was worth $17 million, a fee that has only been surpassed once in football history.
The 26-year-old has been training with his new teammates at English football’s HQ at St. George’s Park this week and traveled down to London on Friday with the rest of the team ahead of the showpiece game at Loftus Road.
Abdulrahman has not played since May, when Al-Ain were dumped out of the AFC Champions League by Lekhwiya, and he was not considered for the Arab Club Champions Club on Sunday, but Jesus said the 2016 Asian Player of the Year is line to make his first appearance for his boyhood club this weekend.
“Omar is training with the team for five or six days,” said Jesus. “Intelligent players like Omar learn fast, so that’s why he will be part of the game.”
There are various subplots to the game in west London, not least the fact that Al-Ittihad coach Ramon Diaz comes up against the club that fired him in February. He won the double in the first season in Riyadh and then choreographed Al-Hilal’s run to the final of the AFC Champions League in his second. Now he goes up against Jesus, the Portuguese tactician who replaced him this summer.
“It’s true Diaz could know the players more and this could influence the match, but they are working with my ideas today and I expect the match to be an excellent game,” said Jesus.
Al-Hilal lost the Super Cup the last time it was held in London, losing to Al-Ahli on penalties in a thriller at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground. Jesus knows this year’s match could provide a launchpad for the season ahead and broaden the appeal of football in the Kingdom.
“Everybody knows the importance of this match, because we play outside Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It represents the image of our football. We are happy to be present in London and play the Saudi Super Cup here. The eyes of Europe sees London as the center of football, so we need to create a good image of Saudi football.”
Jorge Jesus is looking to get his reign as Al-Hilal coach off to a winning start at QPR's Loftus Road ground on Saturday.
Jesus will be without the injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf and Nawaf Al-Abed while national team full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani will undergo a late fitness test.
“We are missing some players but that should not reduce the importance of some players we have in the squad,” said Jesus. “We have to find our best combination of players to go to the match with.”
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub will captain the side from midfield following the departure of Osama Hawsawi and knows bragging rights are up for grabs on Saturday between Saudi Arabia’s two most successful clubs who have won the top prize in the Kingdom 23 times between them.
“It’s one match, there is no other chance,” he said. “We will do our best to win the cup. We can start the season well if we win this cup. We will fight hard to win, but Ittihad is doing their hardest to win it, too. We are super motivated to show a good level and start with a Saudi Super Cup victory.”
Al-Hilal labored to a 1-0 win over Al-Shabab on Sunday night and know they will need to be much nearer their best against last season’s King’s Cup winners.
“In the beginning of the season, you can have some difficulties,“ Al-Shalhoub said. “Our first home game in the Arab Cup we showed a good level, but we have to me more ready against Ittihad.”