MILAN (Reuters) - After a turbulent year at Silvio Berlusconi's AC Milan, Sinisa Mihajlovic is back in his comfort zone at Torino where he has inspired one of Italy's less fashionable teams to one of the best starts in their recent history. The Serbian coach is clearly relishing his role in helping a middle-ranking team surpass modest expectations, rather than battling against a meddling owner and unrealistically high hopes at a big club.
Torino, who host Chievo on Saturday, are seventh in Serie A with 22 points from 13 games, only four behind second-placed Roma.
Even more impressively, they are the league's second-highest scoring team with 29 goals, one more than leaders Juventus. Ten of those have come from 22-year-old striker Andrea Belotti, who is quickly becoming one of Italy's great hopes.
Mihajlovic resurrected Sampdoria during 18 months with the Genoa club but it was always going to be a different story when he joined Milan at the start of last season.
Sure enough, Mihajlovic said in an interview with Corriere dello Sport that Berlusconi tried to interfere in team selection, at one point urging him to field Diego Lopez in goal instead of Gianluigi Donnarumma who was 16 at the time.
Mihajlovic, who had already ditched a 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by Berlusconi, said he knew his days were numbered when he refused.
“You can’t hire Mihajlovic and then think you can do whatever you want. There can be exchanges of opinions, but I am the one who makes the decisions," he said, adding that he had wasted valuable time with Berlusconi's tactics.
Torino, where president Urbano Cairo keeps well away from the pitch, is a different story, Mihajlovic said. “We get along well, he is ambitious," said Mihajlovic. "I didn’t want to come to Torino just to focus on mid-table safety, you always have to try to raise the bar."
"The history of Torino draws strength from its own roots, it's a story of heart, soul, sweat and pride, the way I like it," he added.
"But it's not just that. This is a club which is growing, everyone knows their place and there is great ambition."
Typically, Mihajlovic has not allowed his team to rest on their laurels, especially Belotti who was scolded despite scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over Crotone last Sunday. Describing Belotti's first-half performance as limp, Mihajlovic gave him a stark warning.
"Belotti should not lose his ruthlessness and humility, otherwise he will just become an ordinary player," he said. “He has to work with the same attitude that allowed him to get into the national team and remember that in football only the most recent goal matters, not all you’ve done before.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Julien Pretot)