Will Milan regret selling El Shaarawy?
Stephan El Shaarawy
The opening league fixture for AC Milan last season was one to remember. A 3-1 mauling of Lazio was simply no mean feat.
The new dawn of Filippo Inzaghi's reign was off to a blistering start; a sharp contrast to the finish of the 2013/2014 season when Milan finished eighth.
But rather more importantly, one 22-year-old, Stephan El Shaarawy had run the show, leaving the Lazio defence for dead. One could not help recalling Thierry Henry at the height of his powers when he had pace to burn, dribble sleekly, create with finesse, yet finish with aplomb.
El Shaarawy showed glimpses of that, but not consistently enough because of the injuries that troubled him. You see, in the 2013/2014 season, El Shaarawy only played nine times for Milan and scored one goal while the season before, he had played 46 times and scored 19 goals.
In addition, the just-ended season saw El Shaarawy play only 18 times, scoring thrice. So, the coming season, barring injuries, should have been a great chance for El Shaarawy to become what Milan originally bought him for - the chief architect of the team, the inspiration to carry the team forward.
However, Milan and their new coach Sinisa Mihajlovic decided to deny him that by offloading him to Monaco, a decision that bordered on craziness and total buffoonery.
This only adds credence to what former Milan legends like Paolo Maldini have been saying over the years; that Milan are a mess and grappling in the dark. It does not matter how much excitement is at Milanello since Mihajlovic arrived.
But it is nonsensical to let go of the team's genuinely-budding talent especially when the gospel preached there has been one of grooming top Italian talent, as the foundation to get Milan tops again in Europe.
Milan is confusing or is confused. To let go of a player you have worked with since he was 18, with all that promise, for 29-year-olds coming in, is mind-boggling. Besides, El Shaarawy has been the poster-boy of Milan; a guarantee of shirt sales the same way Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do it for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
So, getting him off your rota means reducing your income as a club. Who does that? Of course a disorganized Milan. That said, a similar thing was done in selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Kaka back then.
While those ones were understandably sold to balance the club's books, all recent reports indicate that Milan has recovered financially, and now need to keep the best players to become competitive again.
Of course Mihajlovic, for the superb free-kick executioner he was in his playing days especially at Lazio in the early 2000s, his reason for selling El Shaarawy was a bit lame. You see, Mihajlovic's default formation is the 4-3-1-2. Because there are no wingers or wing forwards in it, it would render El Shaarawy bench material at best.
But that is to suggest that Milan will always play one system regardless of whether it is working or not. Much appreciated, every club must have an identity. But when a new coach arrives, they must equally appreciate the star players they find around as they mull over the formation.
El Shaarawy deserved that much because he delivered when he was fit and playing, if not just by scoring goals, but being a source of them. Turning him into a central midfielder as Mihajlovic suggested upon arrival, with all the central midfielders Milan has, was a senseless ploy.
Jose Mourinho tried to shift Ronaldo to a central striking role but it did not work and he reverted to his original posting. In addition, because Messi is the best player at Barcelona, an approach is devised to allow him thrive, which helps the team, and so should Mihajlovic have done for El Shaarawy.
There is a sense that Mihajlovic is repeating the same mistakes as Inzaghi. Choosing to offload Mario Balotelli without much reason, yet the striker in the one and a half seasons he had been at Milan had scored 30 goals in 54 games was shocking.
In fact, the struggles Balotelli has had at Liverpool can be attributed to that move because it must have disoriented him, knowing that he was sent away for no clear reason, as had been the case when he left Manchester City.
Balotelli had been tamed at Milan and his football was going well, the same way El Shaarawy was beginning to show true class. Sadly, that will not happen in the red and black for El Shaarawy.
But like Henry, the one player El Shaarawy appears to have similarities with, his glowing football career began at Monaco before Juventus wasted him. That is a decision Juventus must regret to this day, like Milan will, after El Shaarawy has re-launched himself at Monaco.