"Roma was a kind of rebirth for me because when I arrived in Rome I came out of a difficult phase after my experience in Monaco," recalls Stephan El Shaarawy in an interview with 90min - six years after he first came to the Italian capital had landed.
The 29-year-old was once heralded as one of the future stars of world football. After scoring 19 goals for AC Milan in the 2012/13 season, his value had increased exponentially.
But after the highs that season at the San Siro, El Shaarawy's rapid rise was thwarted by a series of injuries - most notably a heel problem that limited him to just seven caps for Milan the following year.
In the summer of 2015, El Shaarawy moved to Monaco on loan, where his reputation continued to deteriorate following further injury problems. Things did not go well there either - he was goalless in 15 Ligue 1 appearances - and returned to Italy for Roma mid-season.
"They welcomed me as if they were part of a big family, and I have always expressed my feelings to this club, which is like a second home to me, and to these people," El Shaarawy recalls this period of his career on 90min. "I was surrounded by an incredible amount of affection from the start that continued even after I left, which made me even happier."
Upon arriving in the capital, El Shaarawy met Francesco Totti, a player revered for his legendary career at Roma, where he scored 307 goals in 786 games. "I have to say that Francesco was maybe the only one of the players that as soon as I saw him, I was a little in awe. Then when you get to know him, you realize he's really a wonderful guy, easygoing and very humble. It was a great pleasure playing with him."
Part of Totti's legacy at Roma is that he was captain for 19 years - a period that ended when he handed the captaincy over to Daniele De Rossi, another player who had a long and storied career at the club.
Roma are now led by Lorenzo Pellegrini as captain and it looks like he's following in the footsteps of his predecessors. "Lorenzo is also predestined for the path he has taken. He came back from Sassuolo and they gave him the armband. It was certainly not easy to bear the pressure because after Francesco and Daniele to wear the captain's armband here in Rome , was anything but easy," says Il Pharaone.
"Expectations were high for him and he lived up to them with his personality and great performances on the pitch. He's a friend to me, I've seen his great development on a human level and I think he's made a difference. He has found a great balance that allows him to perform consistently - no doubt he deserves it all."
Pellegrini led Roma to the UEFA Europa Conference League in the 2021/22 season with a 1-0 win over Feyenoord in Tirana and the first major club honor of El Shaarawy's career.
"There was a great atmosphere and even in the semi-final against Leicester at home there was enthusiasm," beamed El Shaarawy. "When I was looking at the stadium before the game, I spoke to the staff and the warehouse workers and we said it was impossible not to win because you could see the enthusiasm and you could feel the warmth of the people cheering you on.
"There's never been such an atmosphere, not even in the semi-final against Liverpool, because at Feyenoord you really felt like you could win a trophy. The fans deserve it because they've always supported us, even in the lesser ones simple moments and they have waited a long time to see a trophy. It was the right reward for us too. The next day I experienced some of the greatest emotions of my life as we rode the bus around Rome."
El Shaarawy spoke to 90min Italia - read the full interview here.
This article was originally published on 90min.com/de as Stephan El Shaarawy: "Moving to Roma the rebirth of my career".