Widely regarded as one of the most promising young players in the Italian game, Stephan El Shaarawy’s fledgling career to date has been full of distinct highs and lows, with 2013 largely categorised in the latter bracket.
Nicknamed lI Faraone, The Pharaoh, due to his Egyptian father, the 21-year-old has all the attributes to become a star on the world stage. During his time at both Padova and AC Milan the attacker has shown versatility to play in a number of different positions, a clinical eye for goal, excellent technique and moments of spell-bounding individual skill.
However, this season the sprightly forward has had a frustrating campaign, struggling with injuries and making only a handful of appearances for Massimiliano Allegri’s men. The latest setback is a ten-week layoff after undergoing surgery on his right foot.
With i Rossoneri struggling in Serie A and a World Cup campaign just over six months away, the injury could not have come at a worse time for El Shaarawy. However, there is a case to suggest that Milan are starting to learn how to live without the Savona-born attacker.
El Shaarawy joined the San Siro outfit back in June 2011 in a €10 million move from Genoa. The attacker had not yet broken into the Liguria-based side’s first team, but showed unparalleled potential during a loan spell with Padova in the 2010-11 campaign.
Nine goals in 29 outings for the second-tier club and a host of spectacular individual performances saw El Shaarawy awarded the Serie B Player of the Year. With Genoa’s strong links with Milan, a move to the San Siro was the next step in his evolution.
The first 18 months of El Shaarawy’s time with i Rossoneri proved just how astute a purchase his signature had been, with the forward becoming an important member of Allegri’s side.
After a bedding-in period in his debut season at the Serie A club, which he was mostly used as an impact substitute, El Shaarawy stepped up after the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimović to Paris Saint-Germain. At the midway point of the 2012-13 campaign the Milan attacker was Serie A’s top goalscorer with 14 strikes, but by all account 2013 has not been El Shaarawy’s year.
The forward’s form dropped in the second half of last season, and El Shaarawy seems to be in the shadow of January signing Mario Balotelli. The 21-year-old only managed two more goals in the second half of the campaign, and this season has been distinctly forgettable.
El Shaarawy has suffered from debilitating injuries this term, with foot surgery the latest ailment. As such, he has only started one Serie A game this season.
In his absence, Milan have relied on Balotelli for goals, but also have summer signing Alessandro Matri, Robinho and Giampaolo Pazzini to choose from in attack. Despite M’Baye Niang’s upcoming loan to Montpellier, the January addition of Japanese star Keisuke Honda means that just where El Shaarawy fits into the picture when he is available again remains to be seen.
Despite signing a five-year contract in July 2012 and a further one-year extension in February 2013, El Shaarawy has never been far away from transfer speculation. Firstly, when he was excelling the striker was linked with a move, following in the trend of Milan selling their most valuable assets of late. Since his importance has seemingly diminished over the last 12 months, the rumblings of a potential departure have reemerged.
El Shaarawy will be focused on regaining his fitness and getting his place back in the Milan starting XI, with this now necessary for the attacker to ensure a place at the World Cup. With Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi firing on all cylinders, he will face a real task to see regular action in Brazil if he does make Cesare Prandelli’s contingent.
The Italy international has all the attributes to be a world-class attacker, but 2013 has been something of a forgettable year for the young star.