While previewing Roma's winter transfer market, we touched on everything from the club's Financial Fair Play concerns to Paulo Fonseca's tactics, but the conversation inevitably swung towards Stephan El Shaarawy, the erstwhile winger who made his home in the Italian capital between 2016 and 2019, scoring 40 goals and providing 19 assists in parts of four seasons before signing with Shanghai Shenhua in the summer of 2019.
Given those performances and his popularity with the fans, it was quite shocking to see El Shaarawy bolt for the Chinese League in the summer of 2019 when he was still just 26-years-old; several years before players typically make these sort of moves. While El Shaarawy was paid handsomely by Shanghai Shenhua (and Roma received a €16 million transfer fee) when you consider that he's made only 16 appearances in two seasons the decision looks even more puzzling.
But all of those concerns were almost rendered moot last fall when Roma nearly brought El Shaarawy back into the fold. While Roma and Shanghai were rumored to have a loan deal in place for El Shaarawy, the timing didn't quite work out as Roma had to first complete Diego Perotti's transfer to Fenerbahce—given those delays, Roma didn't have enough time to actually complete the El Shaarawy transaction before the summer transfer window closed in early October.
With El Shaarawy never genuinely settling into the Chinese Super League—and seemingly spending more time in Rome training on his own—it's long been assumed that Roma and Shanghai would pick up where they left off last summer, patching together a new transfer deal when the window opens on January 4th.
Operating on assumptions is always a risky business, particularly when you're dealing with something as fickle as football, but given everything we just discussed—not to mention the Roma's need at the position—El Shaarawy’s return to Roma felt like a safe assumption.
However, with word trickling out that Shanghai Shenhua are hesitant to let El Shaarawy leave on a dry loan, those once safe assumptions may soon explode in our collective faces. And as a result, Roma may have no other choice but to line up alternatives to El Shaarawy.
According to the Corriere dello Sport, Roma are “pressing” for El Shaarawy but have compiled a list of secondary options. Included on that list are Everton's Bernard Duarte, who previously played for Fonseca at Shakhtar Donetsk but has fallen out of favor with Carlo Ancelotti this season, Gent’s Roman Yaremchuk, who has nine goals already but is more of a striker, and the newest name on the list, Otavio, a 25-year-old utility attacker who has two goals and three assists in nine appearances for Porto.
If Roma are looking for an out and out winger, none of these alternative names will truly suffice, but new GM Tiago Pinto may favor the tactical versatility provided by Otavio or Bernard over the feel-good story of an El Shaarawy reunion.
Either way, Roma doesn't have the luxury of relying on assumptions, not when clubs like Fiorentina are reportedly jumping into the El Shaarawy queue.