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The Legend of il Faraone


I have resisted writing about Stephan El Shaarawy for some time now. Primarily because I hate it when young players come along and are expected to be the second coming of Pelé. But also because by helping to add to the hype, then I also help to increase your disappointment when you find that Pelé is actually still alive, and thus it is impossible for anyone to be his second coming. And I just couldn’t live with myself if I knew I’d contributed to your disappointment. So be forewarned, my intentions here are not to build any hype surrounding il Faraone, but rather just to tell you a little more about him.

EXACTLY how the ancient Pharaohs rolled.
As you probably know, il Faraone means “the pharaoh.” In English, people have added the word “little” to it, which I’m hoping is a nod to his age. And hopefully, it is not a bad omen. If you’ll recall from your Egyptian history, the boy pharaoh, King Tut, also came to power very, very young, and thus suffered his demise and untimely death very, very young, too. So for our intents and purposes and also to respect the vast superstitions of the Italians at large, let’s stick to il Faraone. Or even better, just El Shaarawy. He has time to grow into the whole Pharaoh nickname.

El Shaarawy was born in Savona, Italy to an Italian mother and an Egyptian father. He played his youth football with Genoa, and in late 2008, at the age of 16, made his first team debut for them, playing all of 10 minutes. And although he made the bench several other times that season, that is the extent of his Serie A experience thus far: 10 minutes against Chievo two and a half years ago. (He is totally ready to start for Milan!?!)

After this, he was loaned out to Serie B side Padova, where he scored 7 goals in 25 games playing as an attacking midfielder last season. But what really got the big clubs studying their hieroglyphics was during the promotion playoffs vs. Varese. El Shaarawy scored a brace in one game and his talents became legendary overnight. Padova may have gone on to lose those playoffs to eventual promotion club Novara, but Novara were not the only ones going to Serie A. Pharaoh fever had spread quickly amongst the big clubs, and it was only a matter of time before il Faraone was able to put pen to paper towards the next step in his predetermined golden career.



The legend continued to unfold for El Shaarawy when AC Milan came knocking on Preziosi’s wide-open door. A co-ownership deal was quickly arranged where Milan paid €10 million for half ownership of the media's Egyptian darling, and Alexander Merkel was sent the other direction to Genoa, also on co-ownership. (Too bad Merkel didn’t have a more unusual heritage and a cool nickname!)

Here is where the legend gets fuzzy. Everyone from El Shaarawy himself, who admittedly idolizes Kaká, to even Galliani himself makes comparisons between il Faraone and Kaká. Now that would be a second coming. Especially, since everyone knows that Kaká belongs to Jesus. But at the age of 18, having played only 10 minutes in Serie A and one season in Serie B, isn’t that raising the bar a little high? I mean, how many people can really pull off the “I belong to Jesus” shirts, a boatload of injuries, and still be so beloved? No pressure, El Shaarawy, but you’d better profess your religious beliefs quickly, and ideally in t-shirt form.


And don’t get me started on the Italian National Team. People are already proclaiming that he will be the future number 10 for Italy, and he hasn’t even played for the U21 side yet. Having 15 appearances and a goal at the U17 level and 2 appearances and a goal for the U19 squad does not an ancient Egyptian ruler make. Or even a proper number 10, for that matter, least of all for a team that has won 4 World Cups. Give the kid time. Remember what happened to the boy pharaoh?

I have heard that the kid has mad skills. Lightning fast, and trickery with the ball and passes that would make a wizard proud. But I will believe this when I see it... in a Milan jersey, in a big game, where it really matters. Until then, I will be happy that he has joined the ranks of Milan at a young age to learn from more experienced players, some of whom are as ancient as the Egyptian pyramids themselves (looking at you, Seedorf!) Can you spell d-e-v-e-l-o-p-m-e-n-t?


For one thing, he has yet to really play for Milan this summer. First there was a mysterious knee injury, real or imagined, who knows? It’s football, these things happen. Now his agent confesses that Milan want him to build up some muscle mass before he plays. The ladies will tell you that Milan has done wonders for Pato’s muscle mass, at least in appearance, so El Shaarawy is in good hands there. But it will take some time. Also, his jersey number is currently 92, the year he was born, so when he is able to earn a proper jersey number, say the number 10, then you will have a right to expect something from him.

It seems that although the press are ready to bury him in a golden mask and enshroud him with nicknames and comparisons to actual football royalty, Milan are doing their best to actually build a legend. Meaning that you may not see him much this year at all. But when you do see him, perhaps he will be able to live up to the hype… someday, at least. And with a little luck, he will live up to the hype in the red and black.



Please tune in Thursday for our coverage of both the Trofeo TIM (to be played Thurs. Aug. 18th) and Trofeo Berlusconi (to be played Sun., Aug. 21st).


This post inspired by the music of U2’s “War” album.