Rafael wears Bottega Veneta for VERSUS.
Alongside talent, hard work, ambition and luck, fearlessness plays an important role in determining the success of an athlete. The ability to ignore expectations - to focus solely on the game - is a rare and critical skill that only becomes more useful the higher up the world of sport an athlete climbs. It’s a subject the greatest sportspeople of our time love to eulogise about. In fact, our image of a ‘fearless athlete’ comes in the Kobe Bryant / Michael Jordan mould: unfeeling, unflinching and almost robotic. It’s a mindset championed by grindset entrepreneurs and Instagram ballers the world over: to succeed you need to be cold, harsh and clinical. Nothing matters but the grind, this is what fearlessness looks like. Or is it?
When you watch Rafael Leão play for the first time, it’s hard to imagine him feeling any fear at all. The way he gallops beaming around the San Siro - twisting and laughing around helpless defenders - is nothing but joyous. When he scores, which is often, he’s bashful and giddy, giggling with his teammates like he’s back on the playground in Almada. Rafael Leão is undoubtedly fearless. His, though, is a bravery based in peace. He’s not afraid because he doesn’t have to be. He believes the next chance will come and the chance after that. It’s an attitude that allows for self-expression and one that has served him well both on and off the pitch.
An aura of calm is tangible when AC Milan’s No.10 arrives at our set after an afternoon training back in December. He moves languidly, padding slowly around the room to introduce himself to the crew. A Portuguese who has spent time in France and now Italy, Rafa (as his friends call him) switches quickly between languages on his rounds before settling into a comfortable Lustinanian back and forth with his entourage. The 2022 Serie A Player of the Year is having a decent season - collecting a goal or an assist every other game before picking up a hamstring injury against Lecce in late November. Today, VERSUS is sitting down to explore not just Rafael’s sporting prowess but the new type of player he represents off the pitch.