MILAN — 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.
The event was surprisingly upbeat considering that Milan finished eighth last season and did not qualify for Europe.
Inzaghi is Milan's third coach this year. Massimiliano Allegri was fired in January and replaced by Clarence Seedorf, who was sacked at the end of the season. Inzaghi was then hired and given a two-year contract.
Like his former teammate Seedorf, Inzaghi has no previous first-team managerial experience. But the Italian has been coaching in the youth sectors at Milan since retiring in 2012, and has achieved impressive results.
Inzaghi had a glittering 11-year playing career as a forward at Milan, winning two Serie A titles — to add to the one he won at Juventus — and two Champions League trophies.
"I'm not concerned about how we play. The most important thing is to recreate Milan's DNA with the right doses of respect and team spirit," Inzaghi said. "When I won I always was part of a real team with real men and a real coach."