It could be viewed as a repeat of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The season of Stephan El Shaarawy has produced incredible highs and lows which turned him into one of the most interesting youngsters in Italian football.
At only 20-years-old, Il Faraone has netted 16 times this season for Milan, a majority of them coming before Christmas. As a matter of fact, he has only scored three times in all competitions this calendar year—a bizarre transformation for a player who was the Serie A leading goalscorer for a majority of the first half of the season.
However, this phenomenon can be explained. As coach Massimiliano Allegri said, he'd only have 14 players on his active roster next year if everyone could play 50 games per year, which is the tally El Shaarawy was set to hit.
Much has been made about the arrival of Mario Balotelli and how it could be the reason for Stephan's poor form. It's true that El Shaarawy has a lower average shots per game since Super Mario's arrival, but the dip in form has to do more with fatigue than anything else.
The emotional and physical stress of carrying a team of Milan's caliber for a recently turned 20-year-old cannot be overstated.
He was the reason the Rossoneri were not in the dreaded relegation zone in late 2012 and was phenomenal both in Serie A and in the Champions League, where he scored a wonder goal in Russia against Zenit St. Petersburg which was invaluable in pushing his team to the next round.
More recently, Massimiliano Allegri decided to leave out El Shaarawy from the match against Napoli, as he said the seldom used Robinho fit better tactically apart from noting that his young starlet was physically and mentally drained.
Rarely will you see me talking about tactics, but it doesn't take an expert to notice a possible problem in the way El Shaarawy is deployed at Milan.
Tracking back nearly as much as the left-back of choice, the little Pharaoh covers more ground than any of his teammates. It's the selflessness of his style which makes him a dream come true for coaches but could also be the reason for his temporary decline.
The energy expended on the defensive end has had its ill-effects going forward as El Shaarawy has rarely gone on his signature darting runs down the left flank, where he cuts it on to his right foot and delivers a beautiful curling effort past the goalkeeper.
Such plays were expected in the first half of the season as a young Stephan still had the power of his legs. Now that the fatigue has set in, he's not lucid in front of goal, and it showed on the biggest stage—as critical misses and heavy touches were commonplace against Barcelona in the Champions League.
While many are quick to rush judgment, Balotelli is the last person I'd blame for El Shaarawy's below-average performances. Highs and lows are the norm for any star player, and expect the Italian international to come back better than ever next season and spearhead the Azzurri to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
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