Milan hope for El Shaarawy resurgence
The last eight months have been bitterly frustrating for Milan striker Stephan El Shaarawy, with injuries ensuring that he was restricted to just 11 appearances in all competitions last season before being omitted from Italy's World Cup squad.
However, it was undoubtedly an important learning curve for the 21-year-old, and it is hoped that he will return to have a significant impact this season after his prolonged spell on the sidelines.
Most of the talk tends to surround Milan striker Mario Balotelli, given his popularity in the media, and whether he is a "champion." After his disappointing World Cup, his detractors have unsurprisingly taken the opportunity to criticise him, but ultimately it is all a mere distraction from the genuine star that the Rossoneri possess.
Particularly now with Pippo Inzaghi in charge, the 40-year-old manager will hopefully place his faith in youth, having spearheaded improvements within the Primavera squad, coupled with the financial restrictions that he will be expected to work within.
Although Jeremy Menez's arrival will increase competition to an extent, Kaka's departure -- and the likelihood of the departures of Robinho, Alessandro Matri and Valter Birsa -- is expected to open up space in this squad for El Shaarawy to become a regular again.
His ability with the ball coupled with his speed make him a threat to opposition defences, but his work ethic and desire to sacrifice for the team arguably make El Shaarawy special, and he could be a symbol of the club for years to come.
Without wholly dismissing Balotelli from this equation, interest from elsewhere in acquiring the Italian international this summer has dissipated in recent days. If the 23-year-old displays a willingness to remain an integral part of Milan's future, it would be most welcome, but perhaps now is the time to stop looking at Balotelli as our saviour and instead regard him as one piece of an important rebuild.
His inconsistency and occasional lack of effort have given him a reputation that he will not find easy to shake moving forward, given that it makes him a liability when the team needs him most.
Admittedly, Balotelli's ability to produce a moment of magic is irreplaceable, but the pressure that he continues to have to deal with perhaps holds him back from completely expressing himself, and so perhaps the burden will be shared by El Shaarawy this season provided he remains healthy.
Nevertheless, looking back to the season before last, El Shaarawy announced himself at San Siro with 16 goals in 37 appearances. If Milan can rediscover that, it would be an exciting prospect. If the club is willing to help him evolve his game to deal with the extra attention that he will inevitably receive, then things can realistically be completely different in the upcoming campaign.
Although El Shaarawy was forced to deal with adversity and a dip in form at stages, his return at the end of last season was merely a preview of what can be expected next season. El Shaarawy will, in my opinion, be regarded as one of the most talented prospects in Europe again.
How good can he be? Should it be El Shaarawy, not Balotelli, who is considered the leading talent in this squad?
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