While Stephan El Shaarawy’s summer move to AS Monaco came as something of a shock choice, the fact the Ligue 1 club are already looking to end his stint with them is perhaps far less surprising. The 23-year-old has failed to make any real impact in the Principality, scoring just three goals in slightly more than 1100 minutes of action.
That playing time was spread over 24 appearances – thirteen of which came as a substitute – and brought him within one game of triggering an automatic purchase clause in the Stade Louis II side’s deal with Milan. Monaco paid no fee for their current loan arrangement, and it therefore makes little sense to hand over €14 million for a player who has yet to find the back of the net in domestic action.
Clearly not breaking into Leonardo Jardim’s first-choice XI, El Shaarawy now finds himself at something of a crossroads in his young career, a far cry from the manner in which he burst onto the scene back in 2008. Progressing through the youth ranks at Genoa, he became one of the youngest players to ever feature in Italy’s top division before spending the 2010/11 campaign on loan with second tier side Padova.
His performances there saw him win the Serie B Player of the Year award, subsequently prompting Milan to spend €20 million in order to bring the talented forward to San Siro. El Shaarawy would show glimpses of his talent in his first year with the Rossoneri, but would truly announce his arrival in a spectacular second season that saw him net 16 times before the Winter Break.
The January arrival of Mario Balotelli would see El Shaarawy shifted out wide and asked to play second fiddle to the former Manchester City star, but the duo would strike up an excellent understanding as they secured Milan’s place in the Champions League. Then-national team boss Cesare Prandelli believed they brought the best from each other, praising their connection in an interview with UEFA.com.
“Mario can only get better,” the Azzurri boss said at the time. “The fact that he will play with El Shaarawy at club level is an advantage for us. I'm not saying that we have already decided the attacking pair of the future, but we had already tried them together against France and saw their potential.”
Adding that he would get his hair cut in similar fashion to El Shaarawy should they lead the side to World Cup glory, Prandelli would join fans of both Milan and Italy in being thoroughly disappointed at how their partnership faded from prominence. Balotelli’s form slumped immediately after a move to Liverpool, while his former sidekick fought a seemingly endless battle with injuries over the next two years.
Surgery failed to correct a problem with his foot, leading him to make just nine appearances during 2013/14, collapsing in tears after scoring upon his return to action the following season. Yet as he began to put his health concerns behind him, Europe’s biggest clubs once again started paying attention with Arsenal and Liverpool repeatedly mentioned as possible suitors.
When performing at his best, it is easy to understand such interest as El Shaarawy possesses the attributes needed by a modern forward in abundance. Able to play either centrally or on the left, he is blessed with superb technique and control as well as blistering pace to take him beyond a defender. During his time under Max Allegri at Milan, he also demonstrated a diligent – and widely underappreciated – approach off the ball, attentively tracking back and helping his side win possession.
While he may have failed to make his mark at Monaco, statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com show he retains that strong work ethic, averaging 1.2 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per game in Ligue 1 this term. Yet now they too have given up on El Shaaraawy, with Milan’s financial status – as well as the presence of Keisuke Honda, Giacomo Bonaventura and Jérémy Ménez – meaning the Rossoneri are looking for another buyer.
Linked with AFC Bournemouth, Lazio and a possible return to Genoa, Adrian Galliani revealed at the weekend that AS Roma were in negotiations to add him to Rudi Garcia’s squad. Their 4-3-3 formation and attacking style will perhaps prove ideal for El Shaarawy, who was a surprise inclusion in the Italy squad during November’s international break.
Playing ten minutes of the 3-1 defeat to Belgium, it is essential El Shaarawy makes the right decision about his next destination in order to finally make his once bright future a reality and remain part of Antonio Conte’s plans for Euro 2016.