Most of us tend to associate Italian football with quality defenders and a dearth of attackers. Attacking talents are considered a rarity in Italy. In more recent times, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Filippo Inzaghi would come to peoples’ minds when asked about Italian attackers. Under the last three coaches, Cesare Prandelli, Marcelo Lippi and Roberto Donadoni, the Italian national team has struggled to find a true attacking talent. Many strikers have managed to impress in the Serie A, but at the international level, both for club and country, they have failed. Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino, Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Giampaolo Pazzini are just a few among the long list of big stage failures.
Surprisingly, Italy has witnessed the sudden rise of a number of fairly talented young strikers over the last couple of years. Fabio Borini, Mario Balotelli, Sebastian Giovinco and Alberto Paloschi are the household names amongst this rare attacking generation, but one wacky haired teenage sensation has recently caught the eye of fans all across Europe.
I’m talking about Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian U-21 international, partly of Egyptian descent, started his career at Genoa. He was a part of the youth system till the age of 16 and made his Serie A debut in 2008, becoming the fourth youngest player to play in the Serie A. Staying at Genoa didn’t seem like the best option for the promising youngster, and he was sent to Serie B side Padova, on loan.
Not many would have expected an 18 year old to have been a key figure in Padova’s push for promotion, but El Shaarawy was keen to impress. The skinny striker showed Italy’s second division just how talented he was, managing to score nine goals for the Biancoscudati. El Shaarawy tantalized defenders all season long with his incredible pace and eye catching skill. He was rightly awarded for his performances in the summer of 2011 when Serie A champions, Milan, decided to sign him.
There was no doubt that the jump from Padova to Milan would be extremely tough for an inexperienced kid like El Shaarawy. Also, it was fairly obvious that he was going to be deep down the pecking order at Milan. He would have to fight for a spot against the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Antonio Cassano. Luckily for El Shaarawy, the Rossoneri have had innumerable injury problems all season long, allowing the youngster to make his fair share of appearances.
His first moment to shine came against Udinese, earlier this season. Given a whole seventy minutes to play, El Shaarawy scored Milan’s solitary goal, thus helping them earn an extremely important point. In the reverse fixture, El Shaarawy returned to haunt Udinese by scoring a goal in the dying minutes of the game, helping Milan steal a late victory. The 19-year-old put in commendable performances against Juventus, the side with the best defensive record in Italy, in both legs of the Coppa Italia.
On numerous occasions, El Shaarawy has shown that he is still far from being considered a dangerous striker in world football. Poor decisions, childlike selfishness and the inability to shine at the top level are most characteristic of teenage football sensations. Also, El Shaarawy is growing in an environment – alongside Ibrahimovic – that many would consider fairly detrimental to a young striker. The dominant Swede could harm El Shaarawy’s growth. But there is a good possibility that the two could form a lethal partnership, thus allowing the youngster to blossom.
What lies in store for El Shaarawy is hard to predict. Someone with such raw talent can stray into the wrong path and end his career. It is up to the likes of Cesare Prandelli and Massimilano Allegri to ensure that this rough diamond does shine someday.
Milan And Me
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