Who Is Most Important to AC Milan, Mario Balotelli or Stephan El Shaarawy?
Milan's dynamic strike pairing of Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli is at the forefront of the northern Italian club's plans to re-emerge as a footballing superpower.
The two Italian internationals have a lot in common. Both are young, talented, exciting to watch, mercurial and big on personality.
But which of these flashy forwards is currently more valuable to the club?
Let's take a look at their respective profiles:
Name: Stephan El Shaarawy
Contract: Joined Milan in June of 2011, contract expires in 2018.
Milan record: 60 appearances, 18 goals
International record: 10 appearances for Italy, 1 goal
Market value (according to transfermarkt.com): €27 million
Name: Mario Balotelli
Contract: Joined Milan in January of 2013, contract expires in 2017.
Milan record: 14 appearances, 12 goals
International record: 25 appearances for Italy, 10 goals
Market value (according to transfermarkt.com): €30 million
So, both players are at the club on long-term contracts, and they are estimated to have similar market values.
Milan vice president Adriano Galliani obviously considers each one of them to be important members of the squad, based on recent comments.
Speaking at a charity event in July, Galliani praised Balotelli's contribution in his short time at the club, as reported on Football Italia:
He is a top star, even if he was often a reserve at Inter and Manchester City.
When he arrived at Milan I told him to continue being a star, but a starting one.
I consider him to be a bargain, as he scored 12 goals in 13 games and we are paying for him in monthly instalments.
Likewise, the Milan boss spoke of his faith in El Shaarawy, revealing to 7 Gold television that he had turned down a big-money offer for the young star, as John-Paul Tooth of goal.com reveals.
We did not want to sell him, so we simply informed the lad and his family that this proposal had arrived for him. I asked him what he wanted to do.
He said the money he had was more than sufficient, that he is a Milan fan and [that he] did not want to leave. I kissed him on the cheek and that was that.
We discussed tactics for next season, as we are returning to a 4-3-2-1 system and he is happy to play as a support striker.
El Shaarawy is three years younger than Balotelli and is also the more established player at Milan.
Balotelli, it can be said, is the vastly more experienced player overall, however, having spent high-profile stints with Internazionale and Manchester City.
The Palermo-born hit man is also a more established international player and is now a regular starter for Cesare Prandelli's Italy side, while El Shaarawy is still a fringe member of the squad.
Balotelli is at a more advanced stage of his career than his younger teammate, and it is for this reason that he can make more of an impact for Milan this season.
The sometimes-controversial character knows what it is like to withstand intense pressure from fans and media alike.
He has copped abuse from the terraces and risen above it. He has been mocked in the newspapers for his peculiarities, but not let it affect his football.
Three years ago, when he was El Shaarawy's age, he was a less consistent performer on the pitch, but nowadays he is becoming ever more reliable.
Which player is more valuable to Milan?
Sporadic moments of genius are now coming more frequently and helping his team to win games.
El Shaarawy needs another two or three years of top-flight experience under his belt before he evolves into the proven match-winner that Balotelli is.
Fortunately for Milan, "the Pharaoh" will have "Super Mario" alongside him as a reference point.
The two should continue to grow into a formidable partnership, which is good news for both the Rossoneri and Azzurri faithful.
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