A top Chelsea attacking target has reportedly rejected the chance to move to Stamford Bridge this summer, while also snubbing Real Madrid in favour of remaining in Italy.
Todd Boehly is expected to hand whoever takes over the permanent reins in west London more funds to improve the Chelsea squad, with a central striker the main focus of attention.
And that is where the club’s interest in AC Milan star Rafael Leao has stemmed from.
The 23-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best young attackers in European football and, despite the fact he normally lines up as a winger, Lea also has the ability to play centrally.
The Portugal international joined Milan from Lille in 2019 but made his real mark on the side last season when they won the Scudetto for the first time in 15 years. And Leao has continued his blistering form this season.
He delivered a superb assist during the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final with Napoli that sealed the club’s place in the last four, where they will play city rivals Inter.
However, Leao’s contract is due to expire in June 2024, which has sparked interest from a number of top European rivals.
But, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Leao has spurned both Chelsea and Real despite meeting with representatives from both clubs.
Leao’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is said to have held the talks on his player’s behalf. However, he will now focus on moving forward contract discussions with Leao‘s current club.
It’s claimed that salary is not an issue between the parties, with Milan ready to increase Leao’s yearly salary from £1.6m a year to a whopping £6.1m.
There is, however, no word yet on whether Milan have shifted their stance on refusing to assist Leao with the paying of his £13.8m owed to Sporting Lisbon over the termination of his contract in 2018.
Previously, Milan have refused to pay any portion of the fine but could decide to help pay for it as a sweetener to stay.
Chelsea’s interest in Leao goes back to the tail end of last summer, when they actually met with Sporting to learn more about the situation – possibly with a view to settling the debt.
The Blues, along with Real, Manchester City and Manchester United were all reportedly weighing up a deal for the talented forward.
Leao feels at home in Milan
But, having now sealed his place as a regular starter at the San Siro, Leao told Sky Sport Italia after facing Napoli that he was ‘happy’ in Milan.
“I want to stay here at Milan, yes — but there are some things to resolve,” Leao said after the final whistle.
“I’m still under contract for one more year, we’re in talks.
“I feel at home at AC Milan. I’m so, so happy to be here.
“What matters most now is that we’re in the semi-finals, it’s a great season and I want to continue helping the team.”
So, with Leao seemingly going nowhere, it appears that Chelsea will need to turn to other targets to improve their goal output for next season.