Sometimes in football, great players need to be sold to make way for something better. That is exactly what is happening at AC Milan, where Stephan El Shaarawy has become a superstar in a very short amount of time.
On top of financial strain, Milan CEO Adriano Galliani admitted to Milan Channel that part of selling star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris-Saint Germain and Antonio Cassano to Inter Milan was to make room for El Shaarawy to break through.
Galliani: "If Ibra or Cassano had stayed at Milan, then El Shaarawy wouldn't have exploded like that." @officialel92— AC Milan News (@Milanello) December 19, 2012
Now, with all the old heroes and stars out of the club, and with Thursday's sale of Alexandre Pato and the inevitable move of Robinho, Milan are looking to build a squad for the future. As owner Silvio Berlusconi admitted on Thursday, he is willing to see the team struggle in the near future to build a young team that will blossom into a world power once more (via Gazzetta Dello Sport).
El Shaarawy is the present and future of AC Milan. He's locked into a long-term contract with the club and could lead the way into a new era of prosperity for several reasons.
It is very rare for a club of the traditional caliber of Milan to rely on a group of young players, but Milan have started the process of a youth revolution. Despite the goal of going young, there are still several veteran players playing big roles for Milan in the form of Christian Abbiati, Daniele Bonera, Philippe Mexes, Riccardo Montolivo and, prior to his injury, Nigel De Jong.
However, no player has been more important to Milan's surge up the Serie A table than El Shaarawy.
At the age of 20, the young superstar is setting the standard in Italy at the moment. With 14 league goals, he leads the race for the Capocannoniere title in Serie A, leading the way over Napoli's Edinson Cavani (13) Lazio's Miroslav Klose, Roma's Erik Lamela and Udinese's Antonio Di Natale (10 each).
El Shaarawy is on pace to do something incredibly rare. The last time a player close to El Shaarawy's age finished in the top five in goals in Serie A, Mirko Vucinic was a 21-year-old who scored 19 goals for Lecce during the 2004-05 season, which placed him fifth in the league.
El Shaarawy is heading down a special path. If he were to keep his lead and win the scoring title, he would be the youngest player to win the Serie A scoring title since Juventus' Felice Borel, who achieved the feat at 19 during the 1932-33 season.
"He's surpassed all the expectations set for him at the start of the season, and jumped ahead of Robinho and Alexandre Pato when most expected him to be buried on the bench," Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Mohamed Al-Hendy said, "As cliche as it is to say, the sky's the limit for El Shaarawy."
Milan have a special player on their hands, and they need to make sure he always has a place in their squad—that means building a team around him.
El Shaarawy is part of a slew of incredible young players who are ushering in a new generation of stars.
Mario Goetze, Neymar, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti, Oscar and Eden Hazard are among the many young players who have already burst onto the scene, and the debate is on as to who will be the Ronaldo or Messi of the new generation.
Neymar had the lead over the past couple of years, but he has not had the amazing impact and growth recently that he had as a teenager, so the debate is back on.
Playing for Chelsea, Oscar and Hazard have gotten the exposure and have lived up to the hype around them, so they are deservedly in the compeition.
What about El Shaarawy? Playing in Italy, he does not get the exposure of players like Oscar and Hazard, but watching him once is enough to convince anybody that he has what it takes to be the marquee player of this generation.
His pace is blistering, his ball skills are second to none and he finds the net once every three shots. Needless to say, El Shaarawy is a wanted man.
Over the summer, he signed a contract extension with the club that sees him stay at the San Siro through 2017. But that will likely not stop other clubs from coming at Milan to get their hands on him.
The Daily Mail reported in December that Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner is fond of El Shaarawy and would love to bring him to London. Manchester City have also expressed a desire for El Shaarawy, but Milan do not want to part ways with him (via Goal.com).
Milan need to not be tempted by the ridiculous amounts of money that could be thrown in their faces for the youngster, and they need to hold on to him for as long as they can.
With De Sciglio under contract until 2016, El Shaarawy until 2017 and M'Baye Niang until 2018, Milan have several young stars who are invaluable and can turn Milan back into a champion.
I have always been a believer that a player who grew up a fan of a certain club will always find the extra drive to succeed if playing for that club. Such is the case with El Shaarawy.
AC Milan may no longer be what it was in the late 80s and early 90s, when it was close to invincible. That does not phase the 20-year-old, who already sounds like a player who plans to be at Milan as long as he can.
“I’ve supported Milan since I was a kid,” he told La Stampa. “However there is nothing certain in football. If a big offer was made for me then I’d hope Milan would have the strength to keep me” (via Goal.com).
Obviously, a lot can change over the next four years of his contract, but El Shaarawy seems to realize his importance to Milan and their need to build a team around him.
Dedication is hard to come by in modern football. Hold on to a dedicated, talented player when you have him.
Oftentimes, players will join a particular club to play alongside certain players. A player like El Shaarawy has the ability to attract young stars to Milan, and seeing as Milan's ultimate goal is to pump young blood into this team, that could be beneficial.
AC Milan could be in the market for a new goalkeeper, as Christian Abbiati's contract is not expected to be renewed. One name that continues to sprout up is Genoa's loanee to Pescara, 20-year-old Mattia Perin, who has shown incredible potential and could challenge Gabriel as the top young keeper at Milan.
Perin dropped a major hint about potentially playing at Milan following Pescara's 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Rossoneri by making these comments (via Football-Italia): “I have a great friendship with Stephan and we talk to each other quite regularly. At the age of 20 he is already the Serie A top scorer. I’d definitely like to play alongside him in the future.”
Some of Milan's veteran players also understand the youth movement and are endorsing a move for younger players, particularly Mario Balotelli of Manchester City, who has received endorsements from Antonio Nocerino (via Forza Italian Football) and Marco Amelia (via FourFourTwo).
Balotelli's situation at City has potentially escalated following the scrap with manager Roberto Mancini at Thursday's training session. If Balotelli were to leave the club, Milan could be a great destination for the Italian, who grew up a Milan fan and quickly developed a strong relationship with El Shaarawy on the national team over the past couple of months.
"When he joined us, he had a lot of problems," Galliani said of El Shaarawy. "Now, at 20 years of age, he's demonstrating incredible maturity. He's one of the best players in the world in his age group, along with Neymar." (via FIFA.com).
Many players who hit the spotlight at an early age cannot recover after being exposed to the glamourous life of a professional, and many have attitudes of entitlement that cannot be mended.
In El Shaarawy's case, he arrived at Milan after being the star of Serie B during the 2010-11 season. He did have a bit of an attitude, but in typical Milan fashion, the club was able to repair him.
Now, El Shaarawy carries himself like a leader, the leader that Milan can build a team off of.
He cares about the game, and most importantly he cares about the club. I can certainly picture a scenario down the road where El Shaarawy is the captain of a revitalized Milan squad.
Adriano Galliani dropped a hint about the leadership capabilities of El Shaarawy during his Dec. 19 interview with Milan Channel, when he said that the winger embodies what the club believes a Milan player should be like.
Galliani: "El Shaarawy represents Milan. He's perfectly in line with what the president and the club represents." @officialel92— AC Milan News (@Milanello) December 19, 2012
The fact that Galliani feels that sort of confidence in a 20-year-old says a lot about El Shaarawy.
Milan are in a rebuilding phase, and a youth revolution has begun. That is for certain.
Another certainty is that Milan need to keep and utilize Stephan El Shaarawy as the star, leader and ambassador of the club. With El Shaarawy as the focal point of the reconstruction, Milan will be successful in their attempt to get back to the top of world football.