Why Stephan El Shaarawy Is the Natural Successor to Ibrahimovic at AC Milan

Matteo BonettiContributor IMarch 4, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 02:  Stephan El Shaarawy of AC Milan during the Serie A match between AC Milan and S.S. Lazio at San Siro Stadium on March 2, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Despite playing a completely different position from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the young starlet Stephan El Shaarawy has taken up the goal scoring duties for Milan this season as they've mounted an incredible run which has seen them go from near relegation zone to a top-three position in the Serie A.

Playing a key role as well in Milan's 2-0 victory over Barcelona, El Shaarawy has shown a maturity and poise far beyond his years. At the tender age of 20, he has done something previously unheard of at Milan, taken a storied club on his back, showing natural leadership and coming through in the most important moments.

Of course, if I had told you all of this last summer you would've recommended me to the nearest mental health clinic. The sale of Ibrahimovic left a worrisome gap in Milan's attack, as other stalwarts such as Filippo Inzaghi set sail.

With the oft-injured Alexandre Pato sidelined for the 1,494th time, El Shaarawy became the focal point on the left wing as he would often cut to his favored right foot and place a perfect ball into the bottom corner of the net. 

I remember watching Il Faraone when he was 17 years old at Padova. They faced their biggest match of the season in the Serie B playoffs against Varese. El Shaarawy scored a wonderful curler from the outside, prompting my father to say, "I just hope Inter doesn't sign him." 

Inter didn't sign him, and El Shaarawy went back to Genoa where he was previously owned. If you've been following the Serie A for a few years, you've seen the bizarre partnership Milan and Genoa have formed. Basically, the Grifoni send Milan all of their prized, young assets for a bargain-bin discount. 

Anyway, fate had it that Il Faraone would be Milan's star signing. No one expected many goals from him, as we thought he was a flashy winger or second striker, providing plenty of flair and speed but a modest goal rate.

Last year, Ibrahimovic closed down spaces for him in attack, and it showed as he only netted two domestic goals all season. 

This year, however, a different story unfolded. With freshly plucked eyebrows, El Shaarawy took the field with a chip on his shoulder to prove to the Rossoneri that he could handle a rigorous workload up front.

What's even more incredible about the Pharaoh's reign is that his strike rate isn't even the most surprising element of his game. His work rate off the ball and selflessness in defense is unparalleled. He runs more than any other Milan player during the span of 90 minutes, sacrificing an attacking position to track back and help Kevin Constant handle a tricky striker.

Simply put, El Shaarawy has already shown to be a consummate professional, natural leader and perhaps begin a legacy that will far surpass that of Ibrahimovic.