Stephan El Shaarawy: Italian Expert On Liverpool's Next Superstar
Stephan El Shaarawy’s face adorns the cover of AC Milan’s official website, an action pose dominates the front window of the club’s official store tucked in behind the Duomo on a fashionable gallery area but the staff may be on alert for a makeover if the young striker is made available for sale.
There was a similar situation last summer when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were sold to PSG and their images were hastily removed from the storefront to be replaced by El Shaarawy’s spikey-haired poster.
Those high-profile transfers came not long before the new season and the knock-on effect was that there was a major slump in season ticket sales, with some holders demanding refunds so this time around the club has pre-empted any fall-out by adding a clause to their sale where El Shaarawy has been used heavily in the PR, stating that “the use of players in promotional images for season tickets does not guarantee their permanence in the squad at the end of the transfer window.”
Rossoneri fans have been warned and the club’s chief executive and Silvio Berlusconi’s right-hand man Adriano Galliani has not dampened fears that El Shaarawy will not be on his way although last year he claimed none of the big names would go and look what happened.
However, there is mounting unease that if say Manchester City were to come in with an offer in the range of 20million euro plus Carlos Tevez then a deal would be struck although that is certain to cause further indignation amongst the Rossoneri faithful who have taken El Shaarawy to their hearts.
The 20-year-old has become the symbol of the new Milan which for too long had been considered an ageing squad living on past glories despite winning the league title in 2011.
In just his second season at the club, the former Genoa trainee scored 16 goals and in doing so eclipsed Ibra’s goalscoring achievements at the beginning of any season, with five goals in eight games overall which included his first goal in the Champions League.
The Pharaoh, as he has been dubbed due to his Egyptian father, has been climbing to the top of the pyramid in on the international scene as well to become the focal point of the Italy attack during their qualification campaign for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Why would Milan allow rumours of the youngster’s sale to gather pace? Well, that comes down to the man who picks the side – no not Massimiliano Allegri – but the laughing cavalier Mr. Berlusconi.
Never one to sit quietly on the sidelines and let his coaches get on with their job, the Rossoneri owner has been highly critical of Allegri’s 4-3-3 formation and in a recent meeting to decide the coach’s future he reportedly start in no uncertain terms that a 4-3-1-2 line-up had to be fielded in each and every game.
El Shaarawy has thrived playing along the left-hand side of a front-three where his lightening pace enabled him to skip away from away from challenges and flailing legs to head straight into the heart of the opposition’s defence or arrive at the back post to finish off a low cross.
Moving the player into the trequartista role does not seem an option as it would negate his strengths and then playing him directly alongside Mario Balotelli would do neither player any good as the later likes to take the ball early and then look to turn towards goal.
Allegri was under orders to play to the former Manchester City’s players strengths which left El Shaarawy a more isolated and frustrated figure on the left and tellingly from the turn of the year when Balotelli arrived so the former’s scoring rate dropped off.
Even Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has experimented with two upfront and a free player in support; in the recent World Cup qualifier in Czech Republic but with little success and El Shaarawy was withdrawn at half-time while Balotelli followed with twenty minutes remaining although that came on the back of two yellow cards.
Great store has been put on the Balotelli and El Shaarawy gelling at both club and international level and the pair are also seen as the symbols of a new multi-cultural Italy. Their trademark Mohawk hair-styles have been mimicked by youngsters from Milan to Messina even though Balotelli has recently dispensed with his for a more sober-looking appearance.
Marketing opportunities are aplenty for the club and the Italian Football Federation but the bottom line for Berlusconi is to stop champions Juventus dominating Italian football as they have been doing over the last two years while Napoli under Aurelio De Laurentiis relegated Milan to third place in the league this season.
If Berlusconi could land Tevez whom he made an attempt to sign last season, as part of a cash deal for El Shaarawy then the extra funds could be used to pursue PSG’s Javier Pastore thus landing an attacking midfielder to fill a role that has been lacking at the club since Kaka was sold to Real Madrid.
There is no doubt that despite a drop in form due in part to carrying the team through the first four months of the season when it languished in mid-table, El Shaarawy gave notice that he is a gem of a player who has already smoothed out many of the rough edges to his game.
He works tirelessly for his team-mates in not only showing for the ball but in tracking back but it is when he turns and takes on defenders in the final third that he really shines, bringing to memory a young Ryan Giggs in the way he glides away from challenges before heading straight for the byline or cutting in towards the penalty area.
Milan must decide whether to cultivate that talent as Manchester United did with Giggs or cash in and land a couple of playmakers to keep Berlusconi content and Allegri in his job for now. If they choose the latter then it will be to Italian football’s great loss.
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