MILAN (AP) — New AC Milan coach Filippo Inzaghi hopes the criticism Mario Balotelli faced recently will help him grow as a player.
Balotelli was the target of more blame than most players for Italy's first-round elimination from the World Cup, and also had an up-and-down campaign with Milan last season despite leading the club with 14 goals in 30 appearances.
"I spoke with Balotelli after Italy's exit and I told him that the criticism should serve only to strengthen him," Inzaghi said on Thursday at a festive preseason training kickoff event at the club's new downtown headquarters. "I didn't have everything served to me on a silver platter during my career; unfair criticism helped me."
Balotelli has four years left on his contract at Milan but had been linked with a return to the English Premier League — with Arsenal reportedly interested — until Italy's flop in Brazil.
"Balotelli is an asset for Italian football," Inzaghi said, noting that the forward asked for a physical trainer to accompany him during his last week of vacation. "It's my job to get the most worth out of him. He can create the difference for us."
AC Milan vice presidents Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi also attended the event, with Berlusconi — the daughter of Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi — wearing a red-and-black striped Milan shirt.