Tuesday morning saw Stephan El Shaarawy give a generously lengthy interview with Roma TV. So far in pre-season, SES has looked like a million dollars in almost every way: relaxed, nice touches to trap long-range passes from team-mates, and the usual impressive kick-ups that led Alisson to nominate SES as the most talented footballer in the squad last season.
Truthfully, SES has looked at peace with himself for a year now. Though he went into last season carrying a back injury until the winter, and showed a new side to his defensive game only at the very end of the season, he still came across as the calm, composed senior statesman of the team in the post-match pressers of the good and bad results. You could count on SES to convey the bigger picture of what the team was trying to achieve when everyone else was losing their heads. He was also one of the few senior players who showed signs of life during the club’s ‘dark January’ blackout spell.
Nonetheless, SES was once lauded as one of the best talents around Europe, and his numbers at Roma have made a difference to the team but they still are not the kind of numbers to maintain European-wide acclaim. El Shaarawy also lost his place in the Italy squad this past season (though many would say getting dropped by Ventura isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to anyone’s career last season). There’s still plenty for SES to fight for, so that’s all the more reason why EDF tried to light a fire under his ass just yesterday afternoon when the coach was overheard on the microphones telling El Shaarawy to bring his performances to each Sunday.
Stephan opens up this interview praising the facilities at Trigoria, saying the team has everything it needs and starting off pre-season at home is a positive. It is a huge plus, but I skipped this part all the same since we’ve heard it in every player interview so far.
This year it’ll be 10 years since you debut’d in Serie A...
SES: “Yes and I’m still 25 years old, so I have a few years left ahead of me. I definitely feel more mature. From a football point of view, I’m no longer a youth. For that I feel a lot more responsible and this year, personally, I hope to improve even more.”
SES: “In everything. In the performances, in scoring above all. Last year, I didn’t get into double figures and this year the target is definitely to reach ten goals.”
El Shaarawy of last year was an El Shaarawy that proved to be very important in the big games. Do you feel like you’ve made that jump even if you are still young?
SES: “Yes, I think so. It was an important year and I have to thank the coach because it has to be said he put in place a personal understanding that helped me just as much. He gave me confidence even in the moments when maybe I wasn’t performing as much. That was important for me. The relationship with the coach is fundamental for me, especially from a mental point of view. For me how your head is doing counts so much... more than your legs. So last year I managed to find this balance and it was very positive.”
Head yes but also legs, because you were one of those who ran the most off the ball. With or without the ball, there isn’t much difference...
SES: “No, no because let’s say the coach asks a lot of the wide men especially in the defensive phase and especially in the offensive phase, he asks for a lot of work.”
Another stat we can add to your career: a goal and an assist every 2 matches, that’s a lot. Last year you outdid yourself in every area, especially in assists, which shows the right maturation in your game. This year that must give you something more in terms of preparing yourself...
SES: “Yes, absolutely, but as I said before the target is definitely to do better. Especially in terms of scoring because last year, yes, I had important enough numbers but looking at what I could have done, I definitely could have done something more. In a couple of situations I’d also been unlucky. But this year the target is first of all to repeat what I did and then improve on it.”
What effect do the new arrivals give? There’s a lot of competition and for me this is always good for a big club. But you learnt at a big club...
SES: “Yes, I’m used to being among a lot of competition. I arrived competing as a youth against truly big champions, so it definitely doesn’t get me down, it motivates me all the same. This year a lot of valuable young players arrived, so many young players with a lot of enthusiasm. I’ve seen it from the first training session - talented young players. And also those that were here last year who want to show their worth. One above all: Schick. I’ve seen him extremely motivated.”
One question on Allegri: You played at Milan with big players and you stole the show at a certain moment, you were Capocannoniere for a stretch of Serie A, you scored a ton of goals at an age where only Messi and some others had scored the amount of goals you had. This year, Allegri said many times that tactics count for little. That talent counts the most. He got mad a lot whenever tactics were spoken of. Was it like that a Milan, too? And what difference is there between that time and Di Francesco?
SES: “I think our main strength last year was definitely more the collective compared to individual talent. But it’s also clear one player who carried us last year was Dzeko. He was fundamental in the Champions League. But the team, I think, from an attacking point of view and a defensive point of view, was the thing that took us to the next level. For example, the pressing, that how we took on teams... whether they were strong or less strong teams. We went in with the same type of mentality. So I think our strength was the collective, even if it’s clear that talented players make the difference in the games that count. But the coach, like he said in the first days here, depends a lot more on the collective and the team. And I share that point of view, I think the collective is more important.”
And what’s more, last year in a couple of matches like Di Francesco said, you outdid yourselves in terms of high pressing. For example the away game at Chelsea was one of the best because you came off the loss against Napoli where you managed the game but came off second best at the opportune moment. You’re absorbing the movements of the coach...
SES: “Yes, I think this year is easier in terms of re-doing the same things because we’ve got a year of work under our belts. So it’ll be easier for us and him to work with more attention to detail, because he puts a lot of attention on those details there.”
The coach likes to switch the wings during the match. Do you have somewhere on the pitch you prefer to play? Or right, left is all the same to you?
SES: “Well, the coach told me last year that I scored more goals from the right than the left (laughs). It’s clear that each player prefers a specific role and I’ve always said I definitely prefer playing on the left but last year, at the end of the day, it’s true that I scored more goals from the right and even scored my most beautiful goal from the right. So it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem for me to play in the other positions. I’ve said I’ll always be available.”
Is there anyone of the new arrivals that have struck you in particular? Because you didn’t know them as well but now you’ve seen them?
SES: “At the end of the day, to notice a player is talented it takes very little. It’s enough to see one training session to notice some interesting plays. I see Coric, I see Kluivert. They are talented players who want to rise, who want people to see their talent and they can definitely give us a big hand.”
Was there a team at the World Cup that impressed you? If you followed it, that is...
SES: “Yes, yes. I followed it, I followed the matches. Let’s say that, for me, France is one of the possible winning teams. I support them for my ex-teammate even if he’s French. Mbappe has impressed me so much, for his talent and he’s showing some extraordinary things. He’s only 19 years old and so he’s certainly one of the emerging talents.
Did you know he was going to become like this?
SES: “I saw him - I don’t want to come off right now like I know it all - but from the first traning session. He came from the Primavera with Monaco and, after the first traning session... I was with my father...”
You didn’t call up anyone in Italy and tell them ‘I’ve just seen the new Ronaldo here, sign him immediately’...
SES: “No, I told my father and my brother. I said ‘this kid is crazy, what he does.’ He was already making the difference even from the Primavera, he struck me immediately.”
In fact, do you know what Italy could have done in this World Cup? Some say good others say not so good...
SES: “No, I think Italy could have done something important. Also because look at the Euros where we didn’t start as favourites and still managed to beat Spain. We could have gone there to do something important. For me, we would have held our own.”
Football is made up of so many opinions, like ‘look at this Sweden that have eliminated Italy and won’t go anywhere’ then in the end Sweden went far. What was the best moment of last season? From a very beautiful season...
SES: “Yes, it was fantastic. In Champions, to repeat what we did would really be...”
Repeating it would mean only one thing...
SES: “Exactly. And so it definitely won’t be easy. Last year we really did something important, let’s not even talk about the comeback we did against Barcelona. Everything we did in the Champions League was definitely something important and deserved. In the league we definitely started off well and then there was a collapse towards the middle of the season.”
Physical or mental?
SES: “I think more mentally. Which is something we always say at Roma. And it’s something we have to improve because it’s not the first year that this happens, so we definitely have to improve on this. But I think already that even repeating a season like we had last would be achieving something important.”