Written by: Steven Moore (@S_K_MOORE)
Within the region of Liguria to the northwest of Italy lies Savona. A seaport municipality, in 1992 an Ital-Egyptian footballer was born by the name of Stephan Kareem El Shaarawy. After playing – and excelling – with hometown side Legino, he moved to nearby city Genoa – the capital of the region – to play with their youth team at the age of 14. With 40 matches and 18 goals under his belt with the Primavera, Stephan made his senior team debut against Chievo in an eventual 1-0 victory just two years later in the Serie A TIM at an age of 16 years, one month, and 24 days old; this made him the ninth youngest player ever to participate in the top flight of Italian football. Although plagued with several injuries (several metatarsal fractures and consequential foot surgery), the now 26-year-old plays his football with Associazione Sportiva Roma and has been on terrific form this season netting nine goals and providing six assists. Below, a closer look into the debuts of the left-winger and Italian international with Associazione Calcio Milan, Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club, and the Giallorossi: Il Faraone has returned.
AC MILAN – 2011
Due north of Genoa, El Shaarawy moved to Milan to join the Rossoneri ahead of the 2011/12 season for a fee of approximately £13.95m. A lively youngster who was joining one of the most historic clubs in Italy, the existing side had true quality with the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Kevin-Price Boateng, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark van Bommel, Filippo Inzaghi, Antonio Cassano, Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – certainly tough competition for a player attempting to obtain playing time and a starting position… However, two matches into the campaign on September 18th, El Shaarawy was given the opportunity to leave his mark.
Along with Gattuso and Ambrosini, attackers Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic were sidelined with injury which forcing former manager Massimiliano Allegri’s hand. In the 75’, down 3-1 to Napoli, an announcement rang around the stadium: #18, Alberto Aquilani, off; #92, STEPHAN EL SHAARAWY, on. An exciting moment for not only the player but Milanisti despite being down two goals at the San Paolo Stadium.
Although failing to score or create an assist, Stephan looked confident in an impressive first outing. Drifting off to the left wing, you could tell that this is where he excelled and felt most comfortable. In the time he was on the pitch, he created multiple chances and looked to be the real point of attack in a lackluster Milan side that evening. He had a shot blocked, a low-driven shot that forced a save out of Morgan De Sanctis in goal, accurate passing, and terrific skill to dribble away from his opposition when with the ball.
AS MONACO – 2015
In the summer of 2015, El Shaarawy left Milan and the Serie A TIM. His destination? One country west to the Ligue 1 and Monaco, on loan, for a year for a fee of approximately £1.80m. Joining the French side under Leonardo Jardim at an age of 22, the Italian was discussed to have somewhat failed to live up to his potential…
After a breakout season in his second year with the Rossoneri (2012/13) – in which he scored 19 times and assisted eight times in 46 matches in all competitions – Il Faraone had to be sidelined for essentially two seasons due to injury; he made a total of 30 appearances in all competitions during these two campaigns. What was definitely a difficult period in the young prodigy’s career, he refused to give up.
Returning to speak about his tenure at Monaco, the club had just signed 16 players in addition to Stephan that summer; they wanted to challenge Paris Saint-Germain Football Club for the Ligue 1 title. Looking into his debut for the club, it came in the Champions League qualifiers against Swiss side Berner Sport Club Young Boys where he played the final seven minutes of the match. Since nothing really happened in this match in those seven minutes, I’ll dive into his second match as a 75’ substitute in the second leg of this competition which occurred a week later.
Entering the pitch for Ivan Cavaleiro, the Ital-Egyptian was deployed as a left winger in a 4-3-3 formation alongside Guido Carillo and Nabil Dirar for the final 15 minutes – plus stoppage time – of the match. Wearing an unfamiliar #22, El Shaarawy took just one minute to make an impact. Already up 3-0 in front of the home fans at the Stade Louis-II, after stringing together a few passes, he quickly turned and played a ball into the feet of Carillo. Continuing his run, he received the ball and dribbled past two players before smashing the ball – with the help of a slight deflection – over Yvon Mvogo in the center of goal; truly deserved of the highlight reel. Following this, he continued to play simply, passing concisely, but did not hesitate to show some flair. A tricky fake pass, an elastico, a back-heel pass – he definitely gave fans a reason to be optimistic about his arrival.
Commenting on his overall tenure at the club, he looked as if he had struggled to adapt to life in France and break into the starting eleven at Monaco. This consequentially confirmed his return to Milan, leaving his future undecided…
ROMA – 2016
In the summer of 2016, after returning home from a loan spell at AS Monaco, El Shaarawy was sent to the Capital of Italy. Joining Roma on loan for a fee of £1.26m – with an option to buy set at £11.70m – Il Faraone was now 23 years of age. Determined to acquire a starting eleven position under former manager Luciano Spalletti, as September approached, so did the first match of the campaign. Facing off against regional rivals Frosinone, after showing proper form in pre-season Spalletti selected El Shaarawy to start; in a 3-4-2-1 formation he was deployed in his most comfortable position out on the left flank – wearing #22 – with Mohamed Salah, Radja Nainggolan, and Edin Dzeko all in front of him.
In most of the first half he was sticking to the sideline as he consistently made runs behind right-back Aleandro Rosi. He was a nightmare for the defender as his pace constantly left him hanging to dry. In addition, he made several simple passes to his central midfielders or defender to slow down the pace of the match. Occasionally, he cut inside and tried to conjure up something, but nothing prevailed.
After the break, levelled at a score of 1-1, El Shaarawy had his debut goal just three minutes into play. This is still – to date – arguably the best goal he has scored in his football career. Off a neatly worked play which saw a series of around 10 passes occur in front of the Frosinone backline, Ervin Zukanovic whipped in a left-footed, low cross inside the 18-yard box that was directed towards Il Faraone. Out of instinct, the player used the back of his right foot to send the ball into the bottom left of the net, beating Nicola Leali in goal: “EL SHAARAWY! OH, WHAT A GOAL!” screamed the commentator and what a goal it was. The precision and confidence to try such a move in a professional match is remarkable and doing it on your return to the top flight of Italian football made it that much better. An additional goal was scored by Miralem Pjanic in the 84’ to make it 3-1, but El Shaarawy’s goal secured the win for Roma in Matchday 1. He finished the match as the third best player in the match with three shots and 24 successful passes (77% pass accuracy).