AC Milan

AC Milan: How Will They Reintegrate Stephan El Shaarawy into the Lineup?

AC Milan forward Stephan El Shaarawy watches from the bench during a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Cagliari, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Sept.1, 2013. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno
Bobak AbdolmohammadiFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

Stephan El Shaarawy, or Il Faraone as he is affectionately called in Italy, is finally nearing a return to the field for AC Milan.

This can only be regarded as good news in a season full of negatives for the Rossoneri. El Shaarawy's prolonged absence has been but one of a multitude of issues Clarence Seedorf has had to navigate in his tenure as manager of his former club.

It can be argued that El Shaarawy carried Milan in the first half of the 2012-13 season, before suffering a sharp dip in form that coincided with Mario Balotelli's arrival from Manchester City last January. 

In many aspects, he has not been the same player since Milan made the move to grab Balotelli, but much of this has likely been due to fatigue and injury. At 21 years of age, the trajectory is still pointing firmly upwards for El Shaarawy.

However, he has been out since mid-December and as such has not featured yet under Seedorf. With Seedorf came a new formation and a new mentality, with several attacking arrivals as well in Adel Taarabt and Keisuke Honda since El Shaarawy last played.

It is an almost undisputed fact that El Shaarawy deserves a spot in the starting XI, but his entry logically necessitates a shift in tactics and could spell the end of someone else's Milan career.

A left winger by trade, El Shaarawy would fit nicely into the same position on the left side of the three attacking midfielders in Seedorf's 4-2-3-1 formation. In recent victories over Chievo Verona and Fiorentina, that spot has been occupied by Adel Taarabt.

Taarabt is an interesting case, as his form and behavior since arriving in Milan has been better than expected. He has expressed a desire to remain in Milan, but with a €7 million price tag, Milan must be positive that he is worth a long-term investment. 

Unfortunately for Milan, €7 million is now a decent sum of money, and frugality is essential as they aim to build their next great squad. While Taarabt has been impressive, the worry would have to be that he wouldn't like being behind El Shaarawy, Kaka and Honda come next season.

It would seem prudent for Milan to move on unless they are absolutely convinced he will not be a distraction in the future.

As for El Shaarawy, he will certainly be motivated to impress Italy manager Cesare Prandelli heading into the World Cup this summer and will want to prove to Seedorf that he is fully fit and an integral member of this Milan side heading into the future.

Concerns over his compatibility with Balotelli should not prove to be an issue, as Seedorf's formation better suits El Shaarawy's pace and work rate from the flank, as opposed to being a support striker for Balotelli much of the second half last season.

Perhaps the greatest criticism of former manager Massimiliano Allegri's tactics was his seeming over-reliance on his star players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic often appeared to be the man Allegri would rely upon to break down opposing defenses while he was here, and upon Balotelli's arrival, he became the focal point as well.

While it certainly makes sense to tailor a game plan around your best player or players, oftentimes Milan appeared ponderous in possession and reliant upon a moment of magic from their star striker. 

Seedorf's attack-minded formation has paid dividends in terms of spreading out attacking responsibility across the team. Balotelli, Kaka, Taarabt, Giampaolo Pazzini and even Adil Rami have been scoring for Milan in recent times.

Restoring El Shaarawy's confidence will be hugely important to Milan entering next season. With a couple of reinforcements in key spots (center-back, left-back and right-winger among them) and a healthy El Shaarawy, Milan should be set to compete for a spot in Europe once more.

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