For the worst thing that could ever possibly have happened, it's not turning out half bad. Milan's sale of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain last summer was depicted by many as an apocalyptic event, the death knell of Italian football. However, what the deal did was create a power vacuum in Serie A's Valley of the Kings, one which has been seized upon ruthlessly by a young Pharaoh.
Without it, Stephan El Shaarawy would not be a Milan regular, he would not be top of the Capocannoniere charts, and we would not have been treated to the sight of him scoring his first international goal at the Stadio Tardini last night.
“It was an important goal for me, though sadly not enough to get a result,” said the 20-year-old after opening the scoring in Italy's 2-1 friendly defeat to France. “I am going through a good period now and hope it continues. Mario Balotelli is a great player who can also give you goal scoring opportunities. I hope we can become the pairing of the future.”
El Shaarawy's rapid ascent is thanks to circumstances, to the aforementioned power vacuum and an early season injury crisis at Milan, but it's also thanks to a huge improvement by the player himself in terms of what he's actually producing on the pitch.
The former Padova player wasn't exactly starved of opportunities last season, making 22 Serie A appearances for the Rossoneri in total, but scored just twice and never looked as confident – or as unstoppable at full pelt – as he does now.
Significantly, as Cesare Prandelli begins to experiment with a 4-3-3, and in an age when most young strikers mump and moan when made to play out wide, El Shaarawy positively relishes it. “I like playing wide left, it is the role I prefer the most, and allows me to alternate attacking and defending.”
Even a fifth consecutive friendly defeat, to those old enemies the French no less, wasn't enough to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding Prandelli's Azzurri. It's an exciting time for young Italian players, and young Italian forwards in particular, with the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Mattia Destro and Ciro Immobile all playing and scoring for big clubs in Serie A.
El Shaarawy has effectively jumped the queue. The Savona native has less goals and caps for Italy's Under-21 side than all of those three, but looks a lot more likely to become a regular with the senior side at present.
With Giuseppe Rossi still a long way from fitness, Antonio Cassano in exile and Sebastian Giovinco failing to impress in Savoy blue, there only appears to be one question with regard to La Nazionale's attack – who will partner Mario Balotelli? And after his dynamic performance and well taken goal in Parma, there only appears to be one answer – Stephan El Shaarawy.
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