Stephan El Shaarawy's career is at a crossroads.
After a second straight season marred by injuries, fans are beginning to ask questions as to whether they will ever see the player that exploded for 14 goals before the winter break in 2012. It's a question that is becoming more and more pointed as we see the player struggle again to return to the field.
There are abundant reasons to hope that the 22-year-old can find the form he found in his breakout season. Milan are badly in need of a top-level forward. The No. 9 shirt has been on a carousel ride the last two years. Experiments with Alessandro Matri and Fernando Torres both failed by the winter break in 2013 and '14. Mattia Destro has disappointed since arriving on loan from Roma in January.
Jeremy Menez has scored 16 times, but half of those goals have come from the penalty spot and his selfishness has caused more moves to break down than finish. Alessio Cerci finally scored his first Milan goal this weekend but still isn't up to match fitness after sitting for most of the first half of the season at Atletico Madrid. He's also proven that he is most effective as a seconda punta as opposed to a pure winger.
The need for Il Faraone has never been greater. At his best two years ago, he was nearly unstoppable. The best way to describe his skill set is Cristiano Ronaldo Lite. He's deadly cutting in from the left wing, moving into position to either shoot or lay the ball off.
El Sha has shown flashes of his old self at times this season. Of particular note was the game against Sampdoria in November. El Shaarawy scored his only goal of the season at the Marassi, running from the halfway line and cutting in before firing a shot from 20 yards out on the left side of the penalty area into the upper right corner.
That's the kind of thing Milan needs from El Shaarawy. Can they expect it? I think they can.
There have been rumors that he won't be at Milan come next year. Britain's Mirror reported last month on his reaction to rumors of an approach by Arsenal. Earlier this week Tuttosport (h/t Football Italia) reported that the team might be considering moving the player on loan to Genoa. After the success of M'baye Niang's loan move this season the team could be hoping that El Sha could do the same with a move to the club he came up with.
The player's agent later categorically ruled out the prospect of El Shaarawy moving to another Italian team, but he left the door at least partially open to a possible move away from the peninsula in the summer.
That might be counterproductive, though. Milan is still going to be in rebuilding mode and, once healthy, El Shaarawy can be a major part of that plan. He's shown this season that when he can get on the field and get close to 100 percent match fit he can approach the form he showed two years ago. His injury problems have been disappointing, but at only 22 he has the time to overcome them.
So long as he can stay on the field, El Shaarawy is still young enough to turn the flashes he showed on the field this year into the full fury of the form he showed in 2012. If he does it will be a boon to a rebuilding club—and Milan needs to give him the opportunity to do it when he gets healthy.