[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tephan El Shaarawy’s rise to fame came about during a time of chaos and uncertainty at one of Italy’s biggest clubs.
The summer of 2012 was a turbulent and troubled time for AC Milan fans. Three years ago, Rossoneri supporters reacted in shock, disbelief – and some anger – after star player Kaka was sold in 2009. Then, two seasons later, midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo was allowed to leave on a free transfer to rivals Juventus, where he would go on to win four Scudetti and play a vital role in them reaching the Champions League final in 2015.
And now, Adriano Galliani & Co. were at it again, with false promises and vehement denials regarding the impending sale of defensive stalwart Thiago Silva to cash-rich and ambitious side Paris Saint-Germain. To assuage supporters, they even publicly announced they had offered the Brazilian star a contract extension until 2017 on the 2nd of July. Less than two weeks later came the first blow: Milan had accepted a €42 million offer for Silva’s services. Fans were outraged.
Five days later, on July 17th, came the knock-out punch: talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimović was also swapping one fashion destination for another, with anywhere from €20 to 23 million quoted as the price for the big Swede.
In the span of less than a week, their best striker and arguably their strongest defender were off to Paris. To add insult to injury, the €62 to 65 million earned must have disappeared into some kind of black hole, because most of the players who were brought in did not exactly set fans’ pulses racing in excitement. Giampaolo Pazzini – whom no one in their right mind would even consider world-class – inherited Ibrahimović ‘s no. 11 shirt.
However, some other arrivals included experienced and solid midfield duo Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel de Jong as well as Barcelona starlet Bojan on loan from Roma. Additionally, there were two imports from France: young striker M’Baye Niang and midfielder Bakaye Traoré. Unfortunately for the latter, he was unable to really establish himself in the team and now plies his trade with Turkish outfit Bursaspor.
But stripped of their core and with a crop of new faces, Milan – not unlike Juventus this season – faced a rocky start to the 2012/2013 campaign. The tactical nous of defensive duo Silva and Alessandro Nesta were sorely missed, as was the attacking prowess of Ibrahimović. And here was where El Shaarawy seized his chance to shine. No one had expected the young Italian to provide much; after all, he was only 19 years old and had scored just four goals in his debut season.
Well, not only did he shine, but he took the big shoes left behind by Ibrahimović and made them his own. Like any clutch player, his goals oftentimes made the difference between a loss and a draw, or a stalemate and a much-needed victory. By the first half of the season, il Faraone had already netted 14 goals, more than he had ever scored in all the seasons of his young professional career combined. He had quickly become the star of the team, a household name in Italy, and clubs around Europe sat up and began to take notice.
But, in January 2013, things changed. A new face – none other than enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli – arrived on the scene and soon, the young starlet began to fade in the background. Super Mario had come to town and soon took up the responsibilities of leading the attack, and as his numbers began to rise, El Shaarawy’s began to fall: he would go on to score just two more Serie A goals for the rest of the season. Still, with 19 goals in all competitions, he finished the term as the team’s top marksman and played a vital role in helping Milan stay afloat during the first half of the campaign.
After such a brilliant breakthrough season, El Shaarawy was, not surprisingly, linked to a host of other clubs around Europe, but opted to stay with the Diavolo. Fate is indeed a cruel thing, and Lady Luck would turn his back on the young striker for the next two seasons. Injuries began to take their toll; in the term immediately following that impressive campaign, he only managed six league appearances – nine in all competitions – and just score one goal. The 2014/2015 season would prove to be no kinder, where he managed 18 league appearances and netted three league goals – one coming on November 8, 2014, his first in over 620 days.
Il Faraone’s stock was falling as fast as it had risen and he hoped that a move to Ligue 1 with Monaco would provide the jump-start his flagging career needed – and more important – by playing, put himself in contention for a EURO 2016 spot with the Azzurri. Yet despite solid showings, Monaco opted not to make his loan permanent and he was frozen out of the squad at 24 games to avoid triggering this clause. A return to Milan was not on the cards, as the club felt they have enough attacking options with Niang returning from his loan spell from Genoa, Balotelli returning from a second spell in England, and new signings Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano all vying for a place in the starting XI.
Enter Roma. Like El Shaarawy, the Giallorossi had started off on the right footing this season, only to suffer a mid-term crisis and see the wheels fall off their train racing for the Scudetto. After two seasons of being the bridesmaid but never the bride, Roma were sick of finishing second to Juventus and really wanted to put up a serious fight for the coveted prize. But after the poor run of form starting in November, through December, and continuing into January, the club’s leadership decided that they had had enough of French tactician Rudi Garcia and brought back former coach Luciano Spalletti in an effort to turn things around.
Spalletti’s reign hasn’t started off well – with a 1-0 loss to Juventus this weekend. But, as we all know, a football season is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are still 17 games left to be played, albeit with Napoli leading by 12 points and the Bianconeri by ten it will be a tough task for the Lupi to force their way back into the title race. In El Shaawary, they now have a player desperate to prove himself after a difficult couple of seasons; for the player himself, he will now have a team desperate to redeem themselves after seeing their title aspirations crumble and whose fans have grown frustrated with disappointing results as of late.
So, in theory, Roma and Stephan El Shaarawy should make for a perfect marriage; after all, both are keen on redemption after enduring quite a bit of frustration after a promising beginning. Will we see il Faraone rise again, this time, in the Eternal City? Giallorossi fans will certainly hope so, and we may see our first glimpse of what he has to offer this weekend against Frosinone.
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