AC Milan ready to unleash Italian Pharaoh Stephan El Shaarawy on Arsenal
In a week that saw André Villas-Boas sacked after failing to convert the established rearguard at one of Europe’s elite clubs, another young manager, Massimiliano Allegri, jets into London preparing to reap the rewards of having pulled off exactly that.
A journeyman midfielder in his playing days, Allegri is now the effervescent coach of an exciting AC Milan side preparing to defend, or even add to, a 4-0 lead over Arsenal in the second-leg of their Champions League last 16 clash. The 44-year-old strode into the Emirates press room in a bullish mood on Monday evening, giving the Gunners a 5 per cent chance of a come back, having watched Kevin-Prince Boateng and Zlatan Ibrahimović score either side of a Robinho brace in Italy 21 days ago.
It was a performance that announced to the world that Milan were really back, having flirted with success once again last year, when Allegri led the Rossoneri to their first Serie A title since 2004, in his début campaign in the San Siro dugout.
The key to the success? Managing and respecting the clubs former philosophy of attracting ageing European stars, but tempering it with fresh, hungry talent with a point to prove. In the last 18 months, Milan stalwarts Andrea Pirlo, Marek Jankulovski, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso have either been moved on or accepted more fringe roles, where their experience and knowledge has taught a new generation the values of the past.
These days, Milan are a more free flowing, creative and watchable force. The likes of Robinho, Alberto Aquilani, Philippe Mexès, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Zlatan Ibrahimović were all hungry for a new challenge, and are thriving in Allegri’s perfect blend of enthusiasm and experience.
Yet of all Milan’s recent business, the summer arrival of Stephan El Shaarawy from Genoa via Padova was perhaps the most intriguing. El Shaarawy, a 19-year-old Italian born to an Egyptian father, had struggled to impose himself at Genoa, but caught the eye with Serie B side Padova, scoring nine times in 29 matches as they reached the promotion play-off final, only to lose out to Novara.
It didn’t matter. Milan had watched the player just a handful of times, but seemed fixated on his talent. He didn’t fit their mandate of prime-age and ready to battle for trophies, but they kicked on regardless, buying 50 per cent of his rights for €10m in June – a notable figure for a kid with just a season of Serie B experience. The step up since has proved steep at times, but El Shaarawy has scored four goals in 11 matches this term, including two in two in the Coppa Italia. It has been a tantalising glimpse of his boundless potential.
A five foot 10 inch forward with a Mohawk haircut as outlandish as his dazzling footwork, ‘Il Faraone’ (The Pharaoh) will start against Arsenal this evening, as Allegri lets the sparkling forward off the leash for an opportunity on the big stage.
Fast, agile, versatile and with the ability to find gaps in creaking defences, Arsène Wenger’s Gunners will have a go against the Italian Champions, but leave the backdoor too far ajar, and El Shaarawy has the talent and desire to make them pay.
Allegri spoke of El Shaarawy’s prospects this week, saying he will be be a key part of the Milan future. Help shoot down Arsenal tonight, and he may well be a key part of their present.Tagged in: AC Milan, Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Massimiliano Allegri, Robinho, Stephan El Shaarawy, UEFA Champions League, Zlatan Ibrahimović
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