With a new 48% stakeholder at San Siro, and demands from majority owner Silvio Berlusconi to get back to the top of Italian football after several years of mid-table atrophy, there has been a major squad overhaul at AC Milan this summer, with a raft of notable players on each side of the in/out tray.
One of the players to be sacrificed is Stephan el Shaarawy, who this week completed a year-long loan move to AS Monaco, with an obligation to buy for €16 million should the player make 15 appearances.
To the casual observer, this may seem like an odd decision; selling a young, Italian player of such ability, as the club seeks to build an exciting, fresh team with the goal of re-establishing themselves as title contenders.
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For those who have followed the 22-year-old’s career closely, however, a move to Monaco provides a much needed opportunity for a supremely talented forward, who has somewhat lost his way in recent years, to reignite a career that is yet to deliver on its extreme early promise.
El Shaarawy was born in Savona, in the North West of Italy, to an Egyptian father and an Italian mother. With the Egyptian national team’s coach having refused to recognise a teenage El Shaarawy’s eligibility, Il Faraone (The Pharaoh) has subsequently represented the Italian national team at every level from under-16 to his debut for the seniors at just 19 years of age.
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Bursting onto the Serie A scene in the 2012-13 season, the flying forward led the race for the title of Capocannoniere at the halfway point, with a return of 14 goals from 17 games in the league; that figure representing 50% of his team’s entire goal tally.
Comparisons were quickly drawn: to established greats in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and, having moved from Genoa to Milan, his personal idol Kaka, as well as one of the greatest prospects of his own generation, Neymar; at the time still playing for Santos in Brazil’s Serie A.
But whilst the Brazilian moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2013, embarking on a remarkable and swift rise to the top of the world game, El Shaarawy saw his form tail off in the second half of his breakthrough season, affected by injury and finding the space he operated in encroached upon by Milan’s big money January transfer, Mario Balotelli.
Since then, amidst several false dawns and with his game time severely hampered by a series of niggling injuries, he has only managed to show glimpses of the prodigious talent that earned him a starting place for the Rossoneri at the age of just 19.
The club have, as a result, made the bold decision to let him leave Italy for the tiny principality less than 100 miles from his place of birth.
Gone are the days when Monaco operated their own ‘galacticos’ policy, taking advantage of a rich owner and the principality’s extraordinarily low rate of tax to attract world class talent; spending £150m in a single summer bringing in the likes of Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho.
A year ago, thanks to several factors including a large compensation payment the club were forced to pay to the French Football Federation over a tax dispute; the impact of new Financial Fair Play regulations; and their owner, Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev’s divorce settlement, they have set about rebranding themselves as a haven for young talent to develop.
El Shaarawy has joined a club under a manager, Leonardo Jardim, who has shown a great willingness to build his team around dynamic young players.
Whilst France’s Ligue Un has already proven itself many times over as a place in which young talent can develop and thrive, Monaco’s prospects are also given the opportunity to test themselves against and learn from the continent’s best in the Champion’s League.
Against Arsenal in their round-of-16 victory in February, Jardim fielded 22-year-old Geoffrey Kondogbia alongside 21-year-old Fabinho in central midfield; providing a platform for 19-year-old forward Antony Martial and substitute wingers 21-year-old Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and 20-year-old Bernardo Silva to spring rapid counter-attacks from.
It worked; Ferreira Carrasco and Kondogbia both scored, with Silva providing one of the assists in a 3-1 victory that ultimately proved too much for Arsenal to overcome in the second leg.
This summer, Silva has gone on to put his talents on display for his national side, widely hailed as the standout attacker at the u-21 European Championships with Portugal, whilst Ferreira Carrasco has been rewarded with a €20m transfer to Atletico Madrid.
With that move, there is a space open for El Shaarawy to slot straight into, and with the opportunity to work with a coach committed to putting trust in young players and a proven track record of improving them, it could be exactly what he needs to recapture both form and fitness, away from the San Siro pressure cauldron.
Ferreira Carrasco, Fabinho and Martial all featured in Monaco’s top 5 most-used players list last season, behind only Joao Moutinho and first-choice goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, with Silva just missing out in 6th.
If El Sharaawy follows their example, and manages to avoid serious injury, Monaco could offer him the perfect opportunity to play his way back into national contention, and back onto the world stage his talent demands. It may end up costing them €16m, but if he can regain some of his old magic and perhaps help bring them some glory along the way, then fans of Les Rouges et Blancs won’t be quibbling over the fee.
Has this Italian youngster got what it takes to make it back to the top?
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