The Pharaoh and the Duck. It might sound like another cartoon to watch for the father of a two-year-old girl like me, but it could in fact be the solution to many of AC Milan's current problems.
The Pharaoh – Stephan El Shaarawy – is making waves in his second season with the Rossoneri. He has hit five goals in his last five games for Milan, including one in the 3-2 victory at FC Zenit St Petersburg. That particular strike made him the youngest player to score for Milan in the UEFA Champions League – aged 19 years and 342 days.
Pato, meanwhile, is ready to return to action after suffering the latest in a long series of injuries before the start of the campaign. The pair have played together for just 13 minutes in Serie A, but many believe they could form a fine attacking partnership.
Former Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is among their admirers. "El Shaarawy has begun the season very well," said the Paris Saint-Germain FC trainer. "He reminds me of Neymar and I'm curious to see him playing alongside Pato. They could form a great pairing considering their characteristics."
That will be music to the ears of Rossoneri boss Massimiliano Allegri, whose side have scored only seven goals in as many top-flight matches this term; El Shaarawy has four and Giampaolo Pazzini three. The goalless UEFA Champions League draw with RSC Anderlecht on matchday one was followed by that 3-2 triumph over Zenit, though even that win in Russia came about by virtue of one deflected and one own goal.
"I noticed how good El Shaarawy was even before joining Milan," said midfielder Riccardo Montolivo of a young man whose haircut is becoming increasingly popular among Italian teenagers. "He has quality, physical strength, he scores and can attack spaces. I'm sure he will become a key player for Italy too."
While El Shaarawy may be grabbing the headlines, Allegri is rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a Pato comeback. "He's more mature now," the coach said of the 23-year-old Brazilian international, who has notched 51 goals in 113 Serie A outings for Milan. "We expect him to score because this is what he does best. So far we have paid a high price for the many opportunities we have missed as a team."
They enjoyed only brief flirtations together last season – a Coppa Italia dalliance included – yet there is no shortage of mutual admiration between the two forwards. "El Shaarawy can do great things for Milan," said Pato (literally 'duck' in Portuguese). "He is impressing in training." Then Pato got injured and El Shaarawy was quick to comment: "I hope he gets back soon – Pato is potentially one of the best players in the world."
If Pato is an out-and-out striker, El Shaarawy can play wide or drop deeper. They can complement each other perfectly. Should the Pharaoh continue his impressive progress and the Duck finally remain injury free, they really could form a lethal attacking tandem: in Italy and Europe.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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