The greatest testament to Clarence Seedorf’s dedication to football was how he described his decision to call time on his 22 year career as a “difficult night”. Seedorf had 16 months previously left Europe, where he had spent two decades, to join Botafogo of Brazil in a hugely lucrative deal, though any amount of money could not douse his ever-burning ambition.
There was still a desire to achieve success and he led the club, suffering from crippling financial problems and declining attendances, to the 2013 Campeonato Carioca. “One of the most important objectives was to put them back on top and get them back in the Libertadores for the first time in 17 years” he said, “the clubs deserves it, the fans deserve it and the players deserve it.”
Seedorf was speaking after his decision to retire from playing and take up the vacant managerial position at AC Milan where he spent ten years as a player. It comes after Milan finally lost patience with Massimiliano Allegri, fired after Domenico Berardi hit all 4 goals as Sassuolo came back from 0-2 down to win 4-3 on Sunday, leaving Milan just 6 points clear of the Serie A relegation zone.
Allegri, who had won just 5 of his 19 games in charge of Milan this season to leave them 30 points adrift of leaders Juventus, had gathered dark clouds overhead for a large portion of the campaign and the only surprise is that the Berlusconis waited as long as January to remove the 46 year old.
Another surprise comes in the form of Seedorf’s appointment, made on the back of no previous formal coaching experience but to no hesitation from the Milan hierarchy. “The decision [to sack Allegri] was decisive,” Seedorf said. “The call came in the middle of a training session. Obviously, it’s a place where I spent 10 years of my life so when the president asked me I couldn’t say no”.
It is a gamble perhaps made with the view that any chance of a top 4 place has already evaporated, presenting a chance for the Dutchman to learn the job and to be eased into the position in a window where the expectation levels are exceptionally low. There my even be hope that the managerial change to a club legend could galvanise the squad enough to close the ten point gap on Europa League qualification in order to rescue something from a bitterly disappointing campaign so far.
However the two and a half year deal according to his agent suggests the Rossoneri have something more long-term in mind. He comes in with the unanimous backing of president Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he describes his relationship as “very close”, and vice-president Adriano Galliani.
It will be his devout professionalism and enlightened understanding of the game, traits that contributed to his remarkable longevity, that appealed to them, as well as the unyielding dedication and versatility that sees Seedorf write a column for the New York Times as well as running a restaurant in Milan alongside his long-reaching charity work.
His humility and human touch make Seedorf a natural leader and in no uncertainty that he will be a success upon his return to the San Siro is his former coach Carlo Ancelotti, now in charge at Real Madrid. “Seedorf was my player, he has a very big personality,” said the Italian, “he has the capacity and knowledge to do everything in the world of football. He is going to get experience in an atmosphere he knows very well.”
The previous lack of managerial experience has not deterred Milan before of course, employers of Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi and Ancelotti himself, though a career that garnered 21 trophies including four Champions Leagues and five league titles spread across three different clubs in three different countries suggests he is better placed than many to make the transition from player to head coach.
The sheer amount of silverware Seedorf, who has 87 caps for Holland, won will definitely arise hope that he can restore a winning mentality to a Rossoneri that has undergone dramatic decline since winning the Scudetto in 2011, as well as a dogged tenacity and work-ethic he embodied as a steely midfield force during his playing career.
It is significant that Galliani expressed a degree of sympathy for Allegri who had to endure the outgoings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Silva, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta across the past two years of a tough transitional period for Milan.
Injuries to Stephan El Shaarawy and Giampaolo Pazzini have curtailed Allegri’s plans though a first XI including the likes of Mario Balotelli, Ricardo Montolivo, Nigel De Jong and Ignazio Abate have been complimented by a squad of average depth.
Adil Rami and Keisuke Honda have arrived this month and the summer capture of Kaka was a hugely promising signing, though Allegri failed to coax anything that resembled the potential best out of this group of players.
The massively respected Seedorf will be the next to attempt such a task, and given the resolute energy he puts into everything he does, few can bet against him failing.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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