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Stephan El Shaarawy's departure is Milan's biggest mistake yet

AC Milan have allowed one time wonderkid Stephan El Shaarawy to leave to Monaco, and it could backfire badly -- especially if they commit money to Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

AC Milan have been very active in the transfer market so far this season, and if the rumors linking them with a dramatic move to bring Zlatan Ibrahimović back to Milan are true, they're not done yet.

Alas, being active certainly isn't the same as being good, and there is evidence that the rossoneri are doing nothing but neglecting the long term in favor of the short; making the same mistakes that have seen their status decline from European powerhouse to Italian also-ran.

There's no doubt that the most concerning piece of business yet has been the departure of Stephan El Shaarawy to Monaco. Sure, the young attacker has had a difficult couple of seasons with injury, but director Adriano Galliani has been quick to forget his 2012 annus mirabilis, when only the teenager's remarkable run of goal scoring form kept Massimiliano Allegri in a job and Milan in with a hope of qualifying for the Champions League. The following May, Galliani admitted as much:

"Stephan has kept us afloat at times and without him we wouldn't be third. Everyone has highs and lows and El Shaarawy has played a lot and scored a lot. Even if he doesn't score he works well for the team."

Cutting in off the left flank with blistering pace and hitting the net with deadly accuracy, El Shaarawy showed far too much quality for it to have been a fluke. He looked the kind of player who Milan could finally build a new generation around, and he more than merited the international cap handed to him by Cesare Prandelli in August 2012.

Of course, many bright young stars fade before they can establish themselves as true greats, but the rossoneri are abandoning El Shaarawy prematurely. He's had a couple of long injury layoffs, but they don't seem to have been serious enough to be any long-term concern. With a season of regular football under his belt, he could very well get back to his best.

And should El Shaarawy reach his potential and cement his place as one of Europe's top wing talents over the next couple of seasons, making it all the more painful for AC Milan fans is that he was one of their own. Developed in the Genoa youth system, Il Faraone was a Milan supporter from his youth, and he grew up inspired by Kaká. When he recovered from injury to score his first goal in almost two years last November -- a textbook El Shaarawy strike from the edge of the box -- he collapsed onto the pitch in tears.

But setting aside emotion, it looks a pretty terrible piece of business. They've effectively allowed Monaco a season-long El Shaarawy trial by allowing him to leave on loan with an option to buy; had Milan sold him, at least they'd have money in their pocket and it'd be Monaco bearing the risk of his injury troubles.

From just about every angle it looks a mistake.

Signing Zlatan would certainly be a headline-grabbing move, and in the short-term it'd certainly brush El Shaarawy's departure under the carpet. He'd be extremely entertaining for at least one season, maybe two. But when they should be trying to freshen up their attack with young talent, signing a 33-year-old on colossal wages would be a retrograde step in the long-term. Neither of their other recent attacking reinforcements, Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, both 28, fit the bill either. And, also of note, they're still on the hook for part of Fernando Torres' wages.

Signing the likes of José Mauri and Andrea Bertolacci for the midfield have been steps in the right direction, but unless they implement a long-term transfer policy across the team, it'll be nigh-on impossible for them to catch up with Juventus. Allowing El Shaarawy to leave looks a big mistake; signing Ibrahimović could be yet another.

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