Name & Age: Stephan El Shaarawy, 19
Club & Position: AC Milan, Attacking Midfielder/Wing Forward
Stephan El Shaarawy was born in Savona to an Egyptian father and an Italian mother on October 27, 1992. He is nicknamed Il Faraone (The Little Pharaoh) as a result of his Egyptian heritage.
He made his first team debut at the age of 16 for Genoa versus Chievo in the Serie A back in December 2008. It was his only appearance despite making the substitutes’ bench on many occasions in a season that saw Genoa finish 4th. The following campaign saw him take to the field just twice as the club finished 9th.
He was loaned to Serie B club Padova for the 2010/2011 season and that’s when he got a taste of regular first-team action. Despite spending 3 months out injured from October through to January, he made 30 appearances that campaign and netted 9 goals, including an impressive brace versus Varese in the return leg of the promotion play-off. In so doing, he became a key player for a Padova side which got to the play-off final and lost to Novara. He was so impressive that Sky Italia rated him as the second-best young player of the season behind Reggina’s Nicolas Viola, who is now co-owned by Palermo.
That was obviously enough for Milan, who signed him that very summer in a deal that saw them buy half of his contract from Genoa for around €7 million + half of Alexander Merkel’s deal. He made his debut coming off the bench in a 3-1 loss away to Napoli on September 18 that season and went on to make 21 more appearances — 15 of which were off the bench — netting twice and adding 2 assists.
This season, however, he has found starts easier to come by. The mass player exodus that took place over the summer due to Milan cleaning house in a bid to meet Financial Fair Play criteria has worked in Stephan El Shaarawy’s favor as the club is now turning to its young players as a cost-cutting measure.
El Shaarawy has grabbed his chance with both hands. He has started all 7 of Milan’s league games and 1 of their 2 Champions League games, netting 5 times. These 5 goals were scored in 4 consecutive games — a record not even Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed during his time at the club. The big Swede did score in 4 successive games, but netted 1 goal less than the youngster and 2 of those 4 goals were penalties. In contrast, the 5 goals scored by Stephan El Shaarawy in the 4-game span all came from open play, some of them proving to be some real collector’s items.
His genuine emergence this season has generated a lot of excitement in Italy and abroad. Having watched Stephan El Shaarawy a number of times since he signed for Milan last year, Flix & Trix has now — and finally — decided to prepare a scouting report.
Player & Positional Analysis
Stephan El Shaarawy is a very direct player with great feet, technique, and pace. These qualities combine to make him a considerable threat in the attacking third. He is also neat in possession, his movement off the ball is decent, and he has a good shot from long range in his locker.
His work rate is also impressive. Flix & Trix has analysed 2 of his performances so far this season — in the 1-1 draw with Parma and the 3-2 away victory over Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League. Both performances provide excellent examples of his hard work off the ball. Versus Zenit, he even expressed a desire to play at full-back in order to help his team. The selflessness a player shows when tracking back to help his defence is something that is always appreciated…by everyone.
“I like him a lot because he runs like a madman and I like forwards who help out the defence as well,” said Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani to reporters after the club’s 2-0 home win over Cagliari.
As far as Stephan El Shaarawy’s best position goes, it is widely understood — via the player & others who have worked with him — that his best and favored position is on the left flank, where he likes to cut inside onto his stronger right foot and shoot. El Shaarawy says he prefers the left rather than a central position because he has a better view of the game and doesn’t have to play with his back to goal.
In fact, he featured as a left attacker for the majority of his loan spell at Padova as the systems regularly used there were 4-3-3 and 3-4-3. But last season at Milan he featured predominantly through the middle as Massimiliano Allegri favored the narrow 4-3-1-2 system, not seeing a need to change as he thought that El Shaarawy had the physical and technical attributes required to play a central role.
This season has seen an adjustment from Allegri, however. Although he has still used his primary formation 3 times so far, he has also used 4-3-3 as well as 4-2-3-1 (both twice). El Shaarawy’s best performances have come in the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations when he was deployed on the left, compared to the average performances put in when he was played as a center forward in the 4-3-1-2. In fact, all of his goals so far this season have come from him playing on the left side.
It has been suggested that Stephan El Shaarawy’s future lies in the middle of the attack, but his mind seems made up concerning the left flank. Even when he is positioned centrally he drifts towards the left side, further emphasising his liking for that area of the field. And, in fairness, his performances at Padova as well as at Milan justify that preference. However, there are situations existing both at club and international level that highlight a need for El Shaarawy to adjust his thinking as well as improve certain aspects of his game.
At club level, looking at Milan’s midfield, there is a serious lack of creativity at the moment. Milan’s central midfield is full of simple passers and athletes rather than creators. Riccardo Montolivo comes closest with regards to the level of creativity needed, but still it’s just not enough. This problem partly explains why El Shaarawy is forced to drop so deep, as in addition to helping regain possession from the opposition, he has to drop deep in order to get on the ball as the quality of Milan’s forward passing is not up to standard.
There is a positive, though. Given El Shaarawy loves being on the left because he has a better view of the game, he thrives on collecting the ball from deep and using his pace and trickery to skip past defenders en route to goal. So in addition to being a counter-attacking threat, he is allowed to create opportunities for individual brilliance.
However, his decision-making can be called into question. Alberigo Evani, who managed El Shaarawy in Italy’s U19’s, said he played “too individualistic” during their time together. It was mentioned earlier that he has a decent long range shot on him. Those things put together, it’s not hard to understand the problem
Despite his selflessness in defence, given El Shaarawy’s direct mentality going forward, he often takes the shot on rather than look for a killer pass. This leads to goals, but not always. El Shaarawy has to improve his decision-making here, especially given there is little creativity elsewhere in this Milan side. He has to be more ambitious with his passing (his passes tend to be on the safe side) and not resort to long shots or trying to run at defenders all the time. He has to know when to take the shot on, when to pick a pass for a team-mate in a better position, how to involve more of them in attacking moves and, despite being neat in possession, he has to improve the quality of his final balls as well as his set-piece deliveries. Doing so will see him make more assists in addition to scoring goals.
On a mental level, he has to step up in big games and prove the difference for his team more often, but, at the same time, his team-mates must take care not to burden him with the strenuous task of constantly carrying them on his back — something that can easily happen given Milan’s current situation. Mental development, however, will occur as he gains experience, which will happen as the season and his career continue to unfold. Meanwhile, on a physical level he has to improve his strength.
The situation at international level with Italy calls for similar improvements. Cesare Prandelli has shown a preference for the 4-3-1-2 system as well as the 3-5-2, with both formations featuring central rather than wide attackers. With El Shaarawy’s reputation still growing, it’s unlikely that Prandelli would alter his tactics solely for the youngster’s sake. Thus, he would need to adapt and make the same aforementioned improvements if he is to fit into Prandelli’s plans and prove effective in a central role, either as an attacking midfielder or a second striker. Given his talent, growing into these roles is quite possible. He already likes to have a good view of the game. It’s just a matter of improving how he uses that view.
Improvement in the mentioned areas combined with his existing qualities such as pace and trickery will also see him provide a consistent threat on the right flank.
Natural: LAM, LWF
Potential: CAM, RAM, Second Striker
Milan bought the other half of Stephan El Shaarawy’s contract from Genoa in June 2012 for an undisclosed fee + the other half of Alexander Merkel’s deal. Soon after that, he signed a new 5-year deal, tying him to the club until the summer of 2017.
Adriano Galliani recently said that Milan have invested a lot of money in El Shaarawy and expect him to stay at the club and become a top player. The fact that he is playing such a prominent role for the club now is a sure sign of huge faith put in him. That said, it would take a dizzying offer to even tempt Milan to think about selling their new prized asset. The likes of Manchester United, who have been linked recently with a January swoop, may well have to shell out close to £20 million to get their man.
Both at club and international level, Stephan El Shaarawy should go on to be a consistent goal-scorer as well as provider, often proving the difference for his team with his pace and skill being used in tandem.
The fact that at 19 he has already made his debut for Italy’s senior team (back in August 2012 versus England in a friendly) after working his way from the U16’s through to the U21’s in years prior says that there is a lot of belief in him.
As long as he makes the suggested improvements, he will add to that solitary cap in style as well as go on to be a truly exceptional player at club level.
**Editor’s note: The format of this scouting report will be used from now on. Scouting reports using the previous format will remain as is.