At just 21-years-young, Stephan El Shaarawy is considered by many to be the future of Italian football. This may well be Cesare Prandelli's master-plan as he prepares the starlet for Euro 2016 and beyond. Yet the fact that he has left the door open for a World Cup berth to a player who has featured on just seven occasions in all competitions for Milan this season remains a questionable decision.
Marcello Lippi showed huge faith in Francesco Totti on the eve of the 2006 World Cup and all but guaranteed him a spot, despite the Roma captain having suffered a broken left fibula in the months prior, which kept him out of action for three months.
Talented though El Shaarawy is, Francesco Totti he is not. Whilst Er Pupone had his detractors, he still scored a penalty to progress Italy to the quarter-finals and was the tournament's top assist maker with four. Would anyone expect such a contribution from a fully fit El Shaarawy?
Cesare Prandelli's fear appears to be that he does not have a viable foil for Mario Balotelli, who still looks the favourite to lead the line for the Azzurri. He may feel that because the two have operated together at club level, El Shaarawy may be that player. Yet statistics do not lie, and of the 16 goals that Il Faraone scored last season, just one of those came after Balotelli's midseason arrival.
Or perhaps, Prandelli is banking on El Shaarawy being a ‘big game’ player. His sole strike this season was a crucial away goal in Milan's first leg Play-off round against PSV Eindhoven. Likewise in last season's Champions League he scored twice and made one assist in eight appearances. A successful World Cup campaign lasts for seven matches, and just one goal or assist at a crucial time could be the difference between winning and losing the competition.
El Shaarawy has that in his locker. Not the fact that he is a pacey, tricky wing hugger, but the fact that he can look anonymous for large periods of a match and then put the ball in the back of the opponents’ net when everyone least expects it. His vision and passing ability is second to none when on his game and testament to his ability is the fact that he is still being courted by big clubs, despite barely having kicked a ball all season.
Milan Primavera Coach Fillipo Inzaghi, who is no stranger to injuries and has slowly been building the forward's fitness in time for the World Cup. Should El Shaarawy get the all clear, he will likely be in competition with Alessandro Diamanti, Alessio Cerci and Antonio Cassano. The Pharaoh has youth and hunger on his side, and whilst he has had few opportunities to shine for La Nazionale scoring just one in 10, from U-16 to U-21 he scored 12 in 36. We may yet see an Italian walk like an Egyptian in Brazil.