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Please tell me this Stephan El Shaarawy transfer noise isn’t real

Jun 16, 2013, 10:50 PM EDT

Parma FC v AC Milan - Serie A Getty Images

I have this weird impression Milan’s a big club. Maybe that’s me being old, but throughout my lifetime, the Rossoneri have been one of Europe’s marquee clubs. Although financial considerations have tempered that reputation over the last few years, I’d have a difficult time naming 10 clubs in world soccer I thought players would like to play for before AC Milan.

But when you hear things like these Stephan El Shaarawy rumors, you wonder: Would a truly big, elite, near-the-top-of-the-pecking club even consider selling a 20-year-old who, after scoring 16 goals while seeing his first regular time in Serie A, earned a trip to Brazil with the Italian national team this summer? Barring some huge, unprecedented bid that would have the buying team assuming too much of the risk for a young player’s development, there’s no way players like El Shaarawy should move from club like Milan.

Yet here we are, with persistent rumors linking the young half-Egyptian attacker with a life beyond the San Siro. The whispers started in earnest last week and have persisted, with the most reported scenario having Manchester City make up part of Milan’s $53 million (€40 million) evaluation with Carlos Tévez. The Argentine’s inclusion would reportedly drop El Shaarawy’s price to $33 million.

That this rumor didn’t perish in a death of smoldering absurdity breaks my heart, because with the Rossonerin recent years having taken on the pricey likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho while being convinced to part with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, there seems to be some deranged string on which this reality might exist. Yet even in that world, there are reasons Milan should either hold on to their man or jack up the price:

  • El Shaarawy is on very low wages. He made just over $1 million last season. If Milan sell him, a big chunk of their intake will go straight into the wages needed to acquire an equivalent replacement.
  • And that replacement isn’t going to be a 20-year-old you know can perform for your coach, with your players, at your club. There’s a reason we’re even having this conversation, and it’s because those players a rare. Really, really, rare.
  • Players who are slightly more common: The Carlos Tévezes of the world. He’s a great player, but he’s also older and overpriced. He’ll make around $13.5 million this season. The difference in wages means, after three seasons, you’ve funneled the transfer fee into Tévez’s pocket. All your left with is the older and, by that time, likely inferior player.

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with the astronomical fees players garner in the transfer market, but this scenario highlights how it works. Young players who are cheap, under contract, and highly productive save you a ton of money over the alternatives. You start with that difference and make some educated guesses as to their contributions to other goals (titles, league placements, European spots) and revenue streams (merchandise, ticket sales). Add in some market factors (scarcity, is he in the last year of his deal) and you get some high figures.

For El Shaarawy — a 20-year-old who’s giving peak-level output — the evaluation’s incredible high. It’s probably higher than the $53 million we’ve seen quoted. It’s definitely more than $33 million plus and overpriced Tevez.

The only teams that justify this kind of deal are teams that either (a) don’t have alternatives, or (b) have the type of real world cash considerations that force you to value the money above your club’s prestige. It’s not the move of one of an actor that’s trying to stay among the world’s marquee clubs.

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