(IN THE PHOTO: press conference at Milanello)
MILANELLO – The coach faced the press on Saturday afternoon and looked ahead to the team’s round 31 Serie A match with Atalanta.
Opening comments from the coach: "We have prepared as best as possible despite the absences owing to the recent international fixtures. We’re going to Bergamo to win, but we know we’re in for a tough game. We’re confident and we need to perform well in these final 8 league matches and then the final of the TIM Cup. Our season isn’t over and we have a duty to try and cut the gap to the sides above us and improve our position in the league table. We all have to show that we’re worthy of being at the club. No one can give up. The last meeting with Atalanta is still fresh in my mind. We drew, but we deserved to lose that day. They put in their best performance of the season. There are no easy matches in Serie A. We are set to face sides fighting for their top-flight status and it is the worst time to face them. Motivation will be a key factor and we owe it to the club, the fans and ourselves. It’s also important we do well in the final 8 league matches so we arrive at the final of the TIM Cup carrying positive momentum."
Mihajlovic continued: "I don’t think there is confusion at Milan. I don’t comment on the words of club presidents, but rather, I listen to them. At a big club like Milan, the expectations are higher and it is different to being at a smaller club. There is a big difference. I don’t mind if there is confusion or more pressure because this means you have to work harder and I find that motivating. I don’t know what Di Francesco (Sassuolo coach, editor’s note) wanted to say exactly. Being on the outside, I cannot know. An all-Italian Milan is possible, but time is needed. Locatelli has the mental strength to play for this club, and he also has the ability, but time is needed for him to get used to the step-up from youth team football to first team football. If a player is good enough, he is old enough. If a young player is good enough, I will choose him."
A word on his future: "I am always calm and I don’t take notice of the rumours in the press. I have another year on my contract at Milan, and while I am the coach at this club, I will try and get the best out of myself and the players. I will be evaluated on my results and the work carried out over the year. A lot of factors will be taken into account. The main thing is to have given your all and have no regrets. We could have done better this season. There is no doubt about that. But I would have said the same thing even if we were in first place because you can always improve. The club is coming off the back of some difficult years and so taking everything into account there has been an improvement. The President will make the decision to keep me on or not."
Mihajlovic commented on individuals: "We will evaluate Honda’s fitness today in training. It is down to Menez and Balotelli whether they start or not. It depends on how they train. But when they give their total commitment, they will be chosen. I have spoken to Menez and I hope I made myself clear. I explained everything well to him because I wanted him to understand my point of view and I think he has understood the message. A formation is chosen based around the characteristics of the players and their fitness. I agree with the President though and I think that a four-man backline is best. A few quality investments are needed to improve. Players that are motivated, as well as young and talented and that can become top-class in the future, should be brought in. You have to choose carefully based on the person, his abilities, his motivation and whether he is suited to the playing style you have in mind."
Closing comments from the coach: "I understand perfectly what the President had to say and I know how important it would be to win the TIM Cup. It would change the opinions on our season and we are really hungry to win because many players in our squad have never won any silverware. For me it would be my first trophy at Milan. What’s more, we’ll be facing the best team in Italy in recent years. But, you cannot judge a whole year’s work just on one match."
Riccardo Montolivo joined the coach in the press conference. This is what the skipper had to say: "I was out injured for around a month after the Napoli game. It wasn’t easy to make my first appearance back versus Lazio in the last round. However, I have trained well whilst on international duty with the Italy squad and I played the match with Germany. Tomorrow’s game will be tricky. Atalanta are a quality side both as a group and in terms of individuals. They are very strong at home and have a very passionate set of fans. It will be a battle. The criticisms are always there. I am used to them. I don’t need to read what is written in the press to know whether I have played well or not. I am smart enough to be 100% honest with myself. I work with top coaches and they will tell me whether I have done well or not. I am hoping to go to the Euros with the Italy squad, but it’s down to the coach to decide."
Ignazio Abate meanwhile said the following: "We have to be more accurate in front of goal but we have also been unlucky and hit the woodwork a lot. However, you have to make your own luck. Versus Lazio we did well in the second half. We gave our all. We’re going to Bergamo for the 3 points. We have been without the international players over these past two weeks, but this is no excuse and we all have to give 100% as always versus Atalanta."