'Only Cristiano was as talented as him at 18' – Leao compared to both Ronaldos by former coach

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Rafael Leao's pace, power and flair invokes memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.

That is according to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli's plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.

The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday, driving down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.

Leao leads Milan charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign, while only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.

He has created 38 chances in total in the Italian top flight this season, a tally that only Hernandez (49) and Tonali (42) can better.

Fernandes, speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil great Ronaldo.

"Leao has the power of Ronaldo, he has the talent to solve matches on his own," said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.

"He reminds me of the 'Phenomenon' [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season have emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results."

Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao when he was at Sporting's academy, with Portugal compatriot Ronaldo the only other youth player to display so much potential.

"We are talking about a very special guy for me, I'm so happy with what he's doing," he added on the Milan star. "I met him when he was just 12-13 years old, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first team debut at 18.

"I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent as him at that age. It is very exciting. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.

"I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri, he is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto, now there are only two games left to finish the job."

As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe's elite given the qualities he possesses.

"Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs in the world, from Real Madrid to Barcelona," Fernandes added. "I am convinced that he has an incredible career ahead of him."

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