This week we may well have seen possibly the biggest impulse buy of the summer mercato so far, as Milan signed 50% of Stephan El Shaarawy for a staggering €10m, with Alexander Merkel and half of his contract (apparently worth €5m) heading the other way.
Putting the bizarre valuations of both players to one side, the deal does not strike as one that was planned well in advance, even more so when you consider that El Shaarawy is a forward, the one area where Milan certainly do not need strengthening. The competition is fierce enough to ensure it is hard for Antonio Cassano to get a game, let alone an 18-year-old with just one good season behind him.
He can play as a trequartista – Padova Coach (until he was sacked in mid-March) Alessandro Calori used him there last season – but he does not appear to be a completely natural fit for a trequartista in Massimiliano Allegri’s Milan. If the slightly more established Ganso was rejected on the basis of being too close to a classic No.10, and thus lacking the work ethic required, then it is difficult to see how El Shaarawy, who is more of a seconda punta, fits the bill. Indeed, the youngster’s best displays for Padova came after Calori was removed, and new Coach Alessandro Dal Canto installed a 4-3-3 and deployed El Shaarawy on the left in a position closer to that of a forward, rather than behind a pair of strikers.
Regardless of where he is played, for large amounts of his time he will surely be on the bench, particularly if Allegri sees him as a forward. With FIGC Vice-President Demetrio Albertini recently bemoaning the lack of Italian Under-21s playing in Serie A, and with the general struggles of Italian youth teams at international level over the last few years, the last thing Italy (and the player himself) needs is one of its brightest prospects sitting on a bench, his career stalling with each passing game.
Milan essentially have two options – send him out on loan next season to a Serie A club that will give him first-team football, or keep him in the squad. It is rumoured that Allegri will evaluate these options during the pre-season, where Robinho and Alexandre Pato will be absent, while Adriano Galliani has already insisted El Shaarawy will remain with Milan for 2011/12. Given the strength of the attacking part of the squad, common sense dictates that the former option is the best solution for all parties, so much so that if the latter were settled upon it would be difficult to avoid suggestions and rumours surrounding an ulterior motive for the boy’s acquisition.
Those suggestions and rumours would only involve one individual – Cassano. There is supposedly no smoke without fire, and there has been a lot of smoke emanating from the Cassano camp since the season’s end regarding the potential struggle for playing time in the forthcoming campaign, particularly in view of Euro 2012. Naturally talk of his departure has been denied, but signing a remarkably similar player and stating he will be staying with the squad before the Coach has had a chance to evaluate him is not going to help matters, or ease Cassano’s fears over playing time next year.