It’s been nearly a year now since Stephan El Shaarawy lit up Serie A defenses with shocking regularity in the breakout start that saw him burst onto the European soccer scene.
Just leaving his teens behind at the time, the distinctive forward dragged a laboring Milan side through the first half of the 2012-13 campaign with 15 goals through 22 games, passing the load off to the incoming Mario Balotelli come February as he’d score just once more throughout the 16 remaining contests.
The lackluster back half to the term was an unceremonious end to one of the finest goal-scoring runs by a youngster in recent memory, leading many to question the true quality of the sprightly Italian.
Some suggested that he simply couldn’t coexist with Balotelli, while others alleged that his success was short lived due to a one-dimensional approach that allowed defenders to quickly adjust to his tendencies. Amidst all the lingering questions, one narrative even went so far as to claim the boy from Savona had experienced an aberrational run of form that he quite simply would never be able to replicate at the top level.
But, none of these theories are true. El Shaarawy and Balotelli possess differing qualities that proved complementary in this season’s Champions League playoff round, while doubting the 21-year-old’s talent is nothing short of ludicrous given the brilliance he showed at the outset of the previous term.
Indeed, it was the workload that caught up with a player only embarking on his first full campaign in the Italian top flight. Through those fateful 22 games, El Shaarawy made as many appearances, going the full 90 minutes on 14 occasions. And for a young forward tasked with plugging the gaping hole left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure up front and covering consistently for a lacking back line, such a clip was bound to see him burn out eventually.
And after a confidence-sapping summer of polemic columns, a disappointing Confederations Cup adventure and transfer stories linking him with a move away from San Siro, the Italian international now sits at a crossroads, having been sidelined with a nagging toe injury since Sep. 1.
The speculation that he will soon leave the Rossoneri for pastures anew hasn’t stopped amidst his spell on the treatment table, with the Corriere dello Sport now maintaining that his services are available in return for a “generous offer”. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been credited with interest in El Shaarawy as Premier League clubs with disposable income seem to be willing to bet that the 21-year-old will flourish once more.
But while suitors continue to line up, the pacy striker must consider his future carefully.
Moving to England would require an extensive resettling process both on and off the pitch, leaving him with much to prove in a fresh environment that could either prove hospitable or unsuitable. While at his current club in Milan, El Shaarawy has seemingly lost the confidence of perpetually scrutinized boss Massimiliano Allegri, and counts himself as a member of a struggling giant in the game that can’t seem to get out of its own way.
What the young Italian should do at present isn’t quite clear, but what is known is that however he chooses to proceed, it must be decided upon with the utmost sensibility.
His talent shouldn’t be questioned, and he only lacks for confidence due to circumstances unfair to a player of his age. He needs most to be part of a competitive squad that will give him license to simultaneously express himself and continue to develop.
Allegri and Milan’s upper management have some thinking of their own to do on the subject and should allow El Shaarawy, who was recently rumored to have rejected a loan move to former employers Genoa, to pursue his options elsewhere if he cannot be afforded the necessary faith at San Siro when he returns to action.
Such is the life of the young footballer, tipped for greatness one moment and showered with doubt the next; the Italian must thus take every step to ensure he is able to fulfill his massive potential, not become a casualty of a system that so easily casts players aside at the first sign of difficulty.