Regarded as one of the most promising young players of his generation, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Stephan El Shaarawy has failed to meet expectations.
Time is a difficult concept for humanity to grapple with. Inherent to the concept is a sense of progression, of linearity. Experience, however, suggests that these ideas are not necessarily congruent with our understanding of the passage of time.
The year was 2008, when an unknown spikey-haired striker made his Serie A debut for Genoa at the young age of 16. It would be his only appearance on the season. In an effort to give the youngster some playing time, Il Faraone was loaned out to Serie B side Padova for the 2010-2011 season. This move proved to be crucial for the player’s early development, as he emerged as a star for the team, earning the award for the best player in Serie B in 2011. It was at this point that AC Milan came knocking.
In a move that cost the club €10M plus the sale of Alexander Merkel, much was expected of the young player. Blessed with exceptional pace, dribbling and technical skills, Il Faraone had just the qualities needed to supplement an aging Rossoneri side that featured the likes of Ronaldinho, Filippo Inzaghi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, it wasn’t until the following year that El Shaarawy would truly get his chance to shine for the Serie A giants.
The 2012-2013 season would indeed prove to be the most prolific for the young striker. With many of AC Milan’s more experienced players moving on, the attacking responsibilities fell to the 19 year old – he would not disappoint. With fourteen goals scored by the winter break, Il Faraone was the leading scorer in Serie A, nearly single-handedly keeping the Rossoneri’s chances of a top-3 finish alive. However, the weight of this increased responsibility would prove costly, as the player failed to replicate this form in the second half of the campaign.
Over the next two seasons, numerous injuries limited El Shaarawy to a combined 28 appearances for the Rossoneri. Having sensed that the young wingers days were perhaps behind him, Milan Technical Director Adriano Galliani chose to offload the player to Monaco, on loan with an option to buy that would become obligatory after 25 appearances. This caveat proved to be critical, as the former Rossoneri player was effectively frozen out of the French side upon appearing in 24 games. It would be a season that saw the youngster score a paltry three goals – none of which were scored in Ligue 1.This poor form prompted Il Faraone to make a very brief return to Milan, as he was quickly loaned back out in January of 2016 with an option to buy, this time, at Serie A side AS Roma.
The switch to Roma proved to beneficial, as El Shaarawy managed to score an impressive haul of 8 goals over 17 appearances in the second half of the season. This rise of form would prompt Roma to make his move permanent, signing the young winger for €13 million at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.
Since that time, El Shaarawy has for the most part been asked to provide a spark off the bench, appearing in 64 total matches for the Giallorossi, with a 20 goal tally. Though showing brief flashes of his former self, whether playing for club or country, the player has never managed to match the prolific form he displayed as a 19 year old.
Rumors abound as to what caused Il Faraone’s body and form to decline at such a rapid pace. However, what is not in dispute is that the player at least has the opportunity to be able to turn his career around. At 24 years of age, time is truly on his side. With new coach Eusebio Di Francesco at the helm, he may hope for more opportunities than were afforded him under Luciano Spaletti. To date, the player has only featured twice on the season. However, when he has played, occasional glimpses of his former self have been visibly evident. So, is time running out for El Shaarawy? The true answer to that question is perhaps unknowable. Unlike time, a player’s career does not always have the luxury of being perceived in linear terms. Players progress and regress, mostly without the benefit of reason or explanation. We, as humble fans, can only hope that the ravages of time spare our most beloved players, as well as us fans.