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Don’t Look Now, but El Shaarawy Might Be Roma’s Best Player

Statistics have been very kind to El Shaarawy this season.

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

If it feels like we’ve talked about Stephan El Shaarawy on here a lot lately, well, you’re probably correct. Beyond my well publicized admiration for him as a player, El Shaarawy by his very nature generates a lot of talk. Seldom does SES do anything mundane; his goals are seemingly always highlight worthy, while his mistakes are no less glaring. As we discussed a couple weeks ago when rumors of a contract extension popped up, El Shaarawy has been, to an extent, a victim of his own early success—his stellar, near all-world full-season debut with AC Milan six years ago simply set the bar too high.

The Milan El Shaarawy had it all: he was a talented, uber marketable Italian goal scoring threat, one who was supposed to help usher in the next great era for arguably Italy’s most storied club. The world was seemingly his, until it wasn’t. Thanks in part to some minor injuries, some off the field excess, and the emergence of Mario Balotelli, El Shaarawy’s reign atop the Milan heap was short lived.

But Milan’s loss was (eventually) Roma’s gain. After a half season wasted with Monaco, El Shaarawy found his way to the capital, and was instrumental in Roma’s turnaround in the spring of 2016, scoring eight goals in 16 league appearances. And while SES hasn’t reached the lofty heights of his 16 goal breakout with Milan in 2012-2013, he’s been a solid enough player for Roma; not a superstar but a constant game breaking threat.

And while that should have been enough to satiate Roma fans, we still dreamed of the 2012 SES; the one who would not only lead Roma to glory, but would take his place among the game’s true superstars. Now, obviously that hasn’t happened, but El Shaarawy has accounted for 30 goals (all comps) in his two-and-a-half(ish) seasons with Roma. Those aren’t world beating numbers, but they’re damn good, right?

Despite those performances, El Shaarawy can’t help but shake the inconsistent label. Hell, even I’ve slapped that adjective on my beloved Pharaoh, and while it may have been accurate in the past, I’m here to tell you something: Stephan El Shaarawy has been Roma’s best player this season, and it hasn’t even been particularly close.

In league play, El Shaarawy has contributed to six goals (five scored, one assisted), putting him just ahead of Edin Dzeko and Cengiz Ünder, which, in and of itself, isn’t great, but that speaks more to the club’s struggles as a whole than it does to any of those individual parts.

However, when you peel the rind off that statistical orange, El Shaarawy’s season looks a bit sweeter. In addition to leading the club in league goals, El Shaarawy leads (or is in the top three) in the following categories: expected goals, expected assists, expected goals per 90, expected assists per 90, and shots per 90. Additionally, El Shaarawy leads the club in shot accuracy (77%) and is second only to Dzeko in shots on target with 13, but his conversion rate (19%) is six times better than Dzeko’s and leads all Roma forwards.

Furthermore, El Shaarawy is actually over-performing his xG by 0.59, while Dzeko is under-performing by approximately three goals—though it should be noted, yesterday’s performance impacted each of these numbers, though El Shaarawy was still the better xG performer prior to his brace against Sampdoria. And is if all that weren’t enough, SES leads all forwards in the always nebulous player ratings per Squawka and WhoScored—take that as you will.

All of which is to simply say this: El Shaarawy isn’t nearly as wasteful or as skittish as we assumed, at least not this season. In addition to his shot performance and goal scoring, El Shaarawy has been Roma’s most dangerous players with the ball at his feet, as he narrowly edges out Cengiz Ünder for the club lead in successful dribbles.

Now, does all of this make El Shaarawy a superstar? Of course not, but it does shed a bit of light on what he actually is—an effective scorer and creator from the wing, one without whom Roma would be far worse off.

At 26-years-old, El Shaarawy probably doesn’t have a lot of room left to grow as a player, but if he can gain some measure of consistency in his latter years, he can erase so many of those labels that have haunted his post-Milan days.

Love him or hate, Roma are lucky to have Stephan El Shaarawy.