Stephan El Shaarawy: Can the Pharaoh Lead AC Milan Back to the Promised Land?
El Shaarawy was it again at the weekend. He scored twice in Milan's 3-1 win at Catania—the first a predatory finish, the second a delightful curled shot into the far corner that summoned Roberto Baggio, a man who once wore the famous shirt himself.
The dazzling and varied skills of a player they call "the Pharaoh"—on account of his Egyptian roots—could yet lead Milan on an unlikely road to the Promised Land this season. El Shaarawy has already turned around Milan's dismal start to the domestic campaign.
Friday night's win was the sixth straight Serie A away game in which El Shaarawy has scored for Milan. As Paolo Bandini pointed out for The Guardian, El Shaarawy has accounted for half of Milan's goals this season and, with 12 in 15 games, matched Marco van Basten's best ever scoring start for the Rossoneri.
More important than numbers is the fact his precocious talent has lifted the gloom hanging over the San Siro. El Shaarawy has given Milan fans a reason to believe in a brighter future, especially after the club sold two of their best players—Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva—in the summer.
Milan fans were understandably outraged by that move. This is a club that has won seven European titles—only Real Madrid are ahead of them with nine—and has a rich tradition of putting the best talent in the world before its loyal supporters.
Selling Ibrahimovic and Silva to Paris Saint-Germain was read by many as Milan conceding their ambition. When it was followed by three defeats in their first four Serie A games (Milan's worst start since 1940), the world wondered if Milan's financial problems would prompt a humiliating fall from grace.
El Shaarawy took his cue. In Milan's next home game he scored two well-taken goals in a 2-0 win against Catania and scored again in their 1-1 draw at Parma the following week—leaning on his devastating speed to beat his man and again finish with aplomb.
There was also this run against Parma to get excited about. El Shaarawy's precociousness was coming through in his every touch and Milan had a player who was beginning to look like the European answer to Neymar.
For his next goal, El Shaarawy cut inside and drove home against Lazio. Then he saved a point with a powerful and decisive finish against Palermo. Then came this brilliant, instinctive goal against Napoli, which was Wayne Rooney-esque in its execution.
By now the Pharaoh had our attention. Something special was happening at Milan and El Shaarawy was attracting praise from high places—not least from the coach of the Italian national team.
Said Cesare Prandelli, whose interview with Corriere della Sera was quoted at Goal.com:
He (El Shaarawy) is a modern striker who therefore cannot be compared to those of the past. Forwards used to play in a different way and did not come back to help out in defence, unlike what happens now.
El Shaarawy has great qualities, including physical in terms of his pace and stamina. He is also a generous guy and this has allowed him to win over the fans.
AC Milan's chief executive Adriano Galliani recently hailed El Shaarawy as, "one of the best players in the world," comparing him to Brazilian Neymar and praising his maturity and focus.
El Shaarawy's coach Massimo Allegri has also been impressed by his level-headedness . "He manages himself well in an important part of his career and he's a balanced lad," Allegri said of his young prodigy. (Yahoo!)
Former Milan striker Andrei Shevchenko has also weighed in on El Shaarawy's talent. "He’s still very young, but if he continues like this then he will become a champion," Shevchencko told Gazzetta dello Sport (as per Football Italia).
So far, so good for the Pharaoh—who appears to be taking his new-found responsibility as Milan's key attacking catalyst in stride.
El Shaarawy has made a point of thanking Allegri and his teammates for having faith in him. Milan's owner Silvio Berlusconi will also be pleased he's put some of his success down to the opportunities brought about by Ibrahimovic's exit.
Milan's next big thing is winning the club over as skilfully with his words as he is with his feet. Even his iconic hairstyle appears to have won over the traditionalists at Milan who at first didn't like it—with Berlusconi said to find it tolerable as long as El Shaarawy keeps scoring. (Rossoneri Blog)
When you consider El Shaarawy's searing speed, conjuring abilities on the ball and his eye for goal, it's little wonder the Neymar comparisons are coming thick and fast. Both players are 20 and carry the potential to light up their generation.
Neymar's full potential will not be known until he lands in Europe. El Shaarawy, meanwhile, is already proving himself in Serie A and will have a chance to take on the best teams in the world with his Milan side assured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
On paper, Allegri's team stand little chance of adding an eighth European title. With El Shaarawy at his electrifying best, however, they could yet prove an unlikely threat in the competition.
All hail Milan's glittering Pharaoh—the brightest young talent in Europe.
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