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Manchester City lead the race for Sporting star Rafael Leao

Rafael Leao (L) is already being touted as the next major talent to come out of Portuguese football. (Photo: Facebook - Sporting Clube de Portugal)
LONDON: Manchester City have moved to secure the summer transfer of Rafael Leao, a teenage striker widely regarded as the most impressive attacking talent in Portuguese football.
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.”