The winning goal against AC Milan, followed by a decisive strike against Juventus. Off the bench or from the start, Stephan El Shaarawy is starting to meet the demands required at the highest level...
After breaking out onto the scene with Milan in 2012, while still a teenager, El Shaarawy is all too familiar with having the spotlight on him from a young age. In the seasons that followed, however, the Pharaoh struggled to maintain his sizzling form and doubts arose over his ability at the highest level.
That was until he joined Roma in 2016 and changed his fortunes.
When El Shaarawy notched 16 goals in the first half of the 2012-2013 season for Milan, all eyes quickly shifted on the Italian winger, a man riding the wave of the invincibility of youth and the confidence that comes with it. Despite his struggles in the second half of that year, the youngster extended his contract with the Rossoneri until 2018.
With his exuberant play and youthful looks, he quickly became an internet darling. But the following season, injury problems derailed El Shaarawy’s progression from the get-go, and he got his first taste of adversity.
After scoring in Milan’s Champions League playoff against PSV, the Italian went down injured. El Shaarawy would only make seven appearances in the first half of that season before undergoing surgery once more in December, sidelining him for a further four months. On November 8, 2014, El Shaarawy scored his first Serie A goal in 622 days, and fell to the ground in tears, highlighting just how hard the last two seasons had been on him.
From 2013 to 2015, the winger only made 28 appearances across all competitions. The shift from being Milan’s catalyst to a bench player proved a difficult transition for the Pharaoh and inevitably took its toll on him.
In 2015, El Shaarawy moved to Monaco on a loan deal with an option to buy, in hopes of regaining his form. After a decent start with the French giants, El Shaarawy was frozen out of the team, having made 24 appearances for them: had he started one more game, Monaco would have been obligated to redeem him.
As a result, El Shaarawy was once again on the move when the January transfer window opened. This time, however, the Italian was looking for a more permanent solution. With the opportunity to pick up one of Italy’s forgotten talents for a reasonable price and with so much to prove, Roma pounced.
The winger joined the Giallorossi in January on an initial loan deal, In addition, with the option to make the move a permanent one for an eight-figure sum - a reasonably outlay should El Shaarawy hit form.
Determined to prove his worth once more, El Shaarawy arrived at Trigoria with one objective on his mind: Redemption. In his debut with the side, El Shaarawy announced himself wonderfully to his new employers, scoring a scorpion flicked back heel goal against Frosinone. If that wasn’t enough, the winger would score again three days later against Sassuolo in his second game for the Italian giants.
In his fifteen appearances that season, El Shaarawy finished with a respectable eight goals and two assists, prompting Roma to take up that right to buy. For the first time in a while, El Shaarawy was finally playing with continuity and signed a contract with Roma until 2020.
This season, El Shaarawy has benefitted from the stability at the club and has made 16 starts for the Giallorossi. That being said he has no issues making an impact off the bench, something he found harder to do earlier in his career - an adjustment perhaps best demonstrated by his two recent strikes against old club Milan (after arriving as a substitute) and follow-up goal over Juventus (in a game he started).
“There are top players at big clubs and everyone has to take their chance to show what they can do," El Shaarawy acknowledged after that Milan game. "You have to be able to make an impact off the bench too.
"I haven't come on and scored on too many occasions which is why that was a big goal for me."
To follow that up with a goal against league leaders Juventus - where, without Edin Dzeko, many were looking for him to step up - was another sign of his growing comfort in a variety of roles and responsibilities.
With Roma already qualified for European football next season and destined to be fighting on three fronts, they will need El Shaarawy to keep performing when called upon, whether that is off the bench or as a starter.
Given his recent performances, such as his hat-trick of assists against Pescara (another career first), it seems El Shaarawy has turned another page in his career and is ready to contribute consistently at the highest level.