Roma are reportedly on the verge of letting Stephan El Shaarawy go off to China, as the Italian forward ready to sign for Shanghai Shenhua in a playing contract four times the size of his current Roma pay. The Chinese club are reportedly willing to offer SES a salary of 13 million euros a year after tax, and it’s said SES’s agent (and brother) has been setting up this move for months in anticipation that Roma wouldn’t meet SES’ wage demands.
I’m probably the least pro-SES man on the CdT team (even though SES did make me a legit fan of his in the last three months of this season), so I’m sure this won’t be the last word said on this move. But I’m of a mindset to defend both the club and SES here. After all, if you’re going to play ‘Moneyball’ then this is exactly how it should be done.
Roma Repackaged Potential To Italian Ramdeuter In His Prime
A while back, Andrea Tallarita wrote an article on Stephan El Shaarawy’s awkward defiance of calcio stereotypes that hit the nail on the head of my own biased expectations. If SES’s career path resembles anyone at the top of world football then it’s that of Bayern’s Thomas Mueller; the same man who brought ramdeuter into the Football Manager lexicon of on-pitch roles. But to say SES plays like a German would be just as lazy as trying to explain all the ways he doesn’t play to Italian convention.
It’s enough to say El Shaarawy plays his game: constantly searching for space and keeping opponent backlines guessing.
More famed for his off-the-ball runs than any skill on the ball in the final third, SES isn’t anything you’d expect of an Azzurro earning his bread between defensive lines. The more spectacular side of SES’ game is blistering pace (the only man in the league who could run over 29km/h for over two seconds last season - though he’s since been usurped by Federico Chiesa topping the Serie A speed charts with a 29.68 km/h for over 3 seconds in 2018/19) and potential to score invidually brilliant goals into the top corner.
So why would Roma let him go? Why not offer the reportedly demanded 4 million a season wages to extend his stay beyond next summer’s expiring contract?
Well, SES long-awaited consistency this 2018/19 season is one of the few examples of Roma’s (often-criticised) squad management done right. Roma have persisted with signing some of the best wide talent around Europe, and it’s finally brought the kind of competition that lit as close to a fire as you’re going to get under SES’s rear-end in 2018/19.
Justin Kluivert’s debut season with Roma brought about 8 assists and 2 goals in all competitions, having played just 1,336 minutes through 2018/19. Cengiz Ünder came up with 11 assists and 6 goals in 1,892 minutes of football during the Turk’s injury-hit sophomore year. A much older El Shaarawy really had no choice but to respond on the pitch and raise his own levels. To his credit, SES did exactly that.
In all competitions, SES managed 11 goals and 4 assists in 2,373 minutes of a barely functioning Roma team. Good, not great. But as good as can be expected in a side that struggled put any single player in a position to focus on consistency, let alone SES’ own. If he has played his last Roma game, he leaves as the man who got the most league goals last season even if not overall top-scorer in all competitions after drawing a blank in Europe.
But if this is the kind of performance that makes SES a ‘headline’ player then where does Roma go with SES from here? After all, Under managed even more productivity in less game time and Justin Kluivert managed almost the same levels in nearly 1,000 minutes less on the field.
SES may have gone onto to become a 20-goal-a-season wide forward, but it’s just as probable he would have been in and out of the Roma side thanks to Ünder and Kluivert.
Justin Kluivert: The Mythical Wide Forward To Dribble and Score?
Ever since we found out Roma couldn’t use Big Data to invent a genetic machine transforming Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy into one superpowered winger, we’ve asked ourselves: Will Roma ever afford a wide player who can dribble, pass and score?
Paulo Fonseca will be looking for one wide man who can bury the ball in the back of the net, and that spot is firmly taken by Ünder. The Turk is Roma’s best finisher as long as you don’t ask him to tap it in from 2 yards against Real Madrid. That also assumes Ünder survives this summer mercato, where the kind of transfer fee he may collect can fund incoming signings after Roma have broken even past June 30th.
The other threat from between the lines has to be from a guy who offers a legitimate threat dribbling on the ball. That man may just be Justin Kluivert for 2019/20, who could now slot in at his favoured inside forward position on the left wing.
Add in the fact that SES’s contract has just one year left past June 30th, meaning the club are making a significant plusvalenza of minimum 14 million euros here. Maybe not the amount expected had SES truly hit the bigtime next season, but Roma have managed to get squad building right for a brief moment in all 8 years of Pallotta’s era.
As for SES, he’ll face the criticism: Why accept a move to China in your prime? Easy to ask from the outside, but it’s a tough decision for a player turning 27 in October. This will be the last contract where the Italian gets to ask for whatever he wants before having to put up with even more protracted negotiations in his thirties.
If El Shaarawy couldn’t get at least 4 million a season in the Italian capital (where the club have two big reasons elsewhere in the squad not to want to hang their necks on making SES a guaranteed starter) then why not go get that bumper contract where you can?