Gianluca Petrachi made an interesting if divisive decision when he let go of Stephan El Shaarawy last summer. For a cool €18 million, Roma’s new Director of Sport sent El Shaarawy to an incredibly lucrative paycheck in Shanghai, clearing the way for Justin Kluivert to make his name on the left wing as Diego Perotti slowly rode off into the sunset. At the time, it was seen by many as a heartless cash-out by Petrachi. El Shaarawy had been with the Giallorossi for some time, and Romanisti have gotten very, very tired of losing player after player before they can stick around for too long.
If everything had gone as Petrachi planned, many would begrudgingly accept the sale of El Shaarawy. To make matters worse, though, the development of Roma’s young winger corps was one of the many issues that Roma faced during the shortened 2019-2020 season. We all remember Nicolo Zaniolo’s continued ascension into superstardom before his ACL tear, and that was a joy to behold. However, Zaniolo’s rise masked Justin Kluivert’s and Cengiz Ünder’s respective failures to make a similar leap. With Diego Perotti showing clear signs of age, Kluivert in particular was expected to become Roma’s long-term solution on the left. Although Kluivert has certainly showed promise, he has not been able to fill the gaping hole left behind by Zaniolo, or even mimic Diego Perotti at his Roman peak. Similarly, Cengiz Ünder has been okay. Just okay. He certainly hasn’t rediscovered that scintillating form from early 2018, and the signing of Carles Perez in the January window made it clear that Fonseca doesn’t see the Turkish winger as core piece in his Roma.
With Roma’s wingers either aging, injured, or not developing quickly enough, it’s not surprising that rumors are emerging that El Shaarawy may be making his way back to Rome this summer. On El Shaarawy’s end, it makes a lot of sense, too: all signs point to the Italian-Egyptian forward being bored and unhappy during his time in China, and who wouldn’t be? Despite the massive paychecks European-quality players are receiving to play there, the Chinese league is nothing to write home about. As for that massive paycheck, it appears that that might not be too important to El Sha. Corriere Dello Sport is reporting that iI Faraone may be willing to give up €25,000,000 from what’s left of his contract in Shanghai just to get back to Rome. There’s desperate, and there’s “I’ll give up €25,000,000 to get back to Rome” desperate. It seems that El Shaarawy may be in the latter camp.
Consider it a blessing or a curse, but the advent of social media has added additional wrinkles to every transfer story. A liked comment from a teammate here, an Instagram story there, and suddenly a million internet detectives come out of the woodwork to declare that a transfer is done and dusted. In this case, though, there’s a little more reason to believe that El Shaarawy’s social media activity points towards a Roma return because, well, see for yourself:
That’s El Shaarawy doing a question and answer session with fans yesterday, explicitly picking a question about a return to Rome and giving a not-so-subtle answer. Add in the fact that he’s mentioned in recent interviews that he misses Rome, and it seems pretty obvious that there’s a good amount of truth behind this rumor.
The problems that El Shaarawy had while in Rome haven’t disappeared due to his Chinese sojourn. He’s still injury prone and he’s still inconsistent. Given that, when he wasn’t injured and when he was on his form, El Shaarawy was one of the most exciting forwards Roma saw in the 2010s. Bringing El Shaarawy back may take the pressure off of Justin Kluivert (still only 20 years old) to be a star immediately, while giving Roma just a little more Italian flavor once again. If the rumors concerning El Shaarawy’s intention to shed huge amounts of salary to return to Rome are just as true as his intention to return to Rome, then this could turn into an excellent move for all parties involved.
When El Shaarawy signed for Shanghai Shenhua in July , b-“El Shaarawy’s number one fan”-ren had this to say:
Look, El Shaarawy was my favorite player on this current squad, so I can’t hide my disappointment, but more power to him; that’s a ton of money and more than he likely would have made playing in Serie A for the remainder of his career, so I certainly can’t blame him for taking that rather than moving to another midtable Serie A team.
El Shaarawy was a productive and dutiful servant to AS Roma but ultimately, like so many before him, that just didn’t matter.
Hopefully this news of Il Faraone returning not only to Italy but to Rome will put a bit of spring in bren’s step. Maybe that time at Roma did matter, both to the player and the club.