Clarence Seedorf ends playing career to take over as AC Milan coach

Dutchman has never been afraid to make bold decisions as he gets ready to take the next step in his career as a rookie coach, writes Ian Hawkey.

The former Dutch player Clarence Seedorf has age on his side while growing in the shoes as a manager. Agif-Wagner Meier / AFP
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Clarence Seedorf was always destined for coaching and there was always a strong likelihood he would start that chapter of his life in an important job.

Preciousness had been a feature of his playing career and, at 37, his youthfulness will stand out when he takes charge of AC Milan for the first time this weekend.

He brings several assets to the role: intelligence, open-mindedness, courage and ambition.

He certainly ticked enough boxes that once AC Milan had decided to part company with Massimiliano Allegri, their coach since 2010, late on Sunday, Seedorf's name stood high on the list of probable replacements.

“I couldn’t say ‘No’,” Seedorf told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, confirming his decision to retire as a player with Botafogo and move straight into management with Italy’s most glamorous club.

“I like challenges and though I had a difficult night thinking about the offer, I am sure I have made the right choice by saying yes.” He has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal.

AC Milan have missed Seedorf since he stopped playing in their midfield, successfully, from 2002 to 2012.

As their standards lowered over the past 18 months, the attractiveness of recalling him in a leadership position had been pushed from the top, by president Silvio Berlusconi.

Though Berlusconi has cultivated several former Milan players as potential future coaches, including Paolo Maldini, Pippo Inzaghi and Mauro Tassotti, who will oversee tonight’s Coppa Italia match against Spezia, Seedorf has a unique worldliness among Milan alumni of his generation.

Typically, it was Seedorf who took the most imaginative option when he was among a clutch of veterans – most of them gold-medallists in the Uefa Champions League-winning Milan teams of 2003 and 2007 and Serie A winners in 2004 and 2011 – who left as Allegri gradually and necessarily sought to rejuvenate the squad.

The former Netherlands international went not to Major League Soccer, or elsewhere in Italy, or to the Dutch Eredivisie where he had grown up. He went to South America, noting that Brazilian football was gaining kudos.

He has been a great success, even into his 38th year, with Botafogo, helping them to the Campeonato Carioca and registering an impressive 18 goals in his 66 matches.

That is not a bad tally for an ageing, deep-lying midfielder. But Seedorf was never an easily categorised footballer.

In the course of a career through which he carried a rare confidence of his adaptability to any league, any culture, he ticked all the boxes for the “complete” modern midfielder: athleticism and stamina, a good shot from a range, and an often brilliant eye for the telling through ball from the same territory.

He could cross and deliver a fine dead ball. He could tackle and mark, too.

When he emerged as a teenaged dynamo in the gifted, young Ajax Amsterdam side who won the Champions League in 1995, he also caught the eye for his maturity in a generally youthful side, one where the talents of the De Boer brothers, Frank and Ronald, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert were also developing.

He moved to Italy, with Sampdoria, and within a year to Real Madrid. “Some of the decisions I made were courageous decisions,” he said of those years.

“It wasn’t easy to go away at 19 years old, nor to Inter when I did. Maybe I could have stayed with Madrid like Roberto Carlos and others. Maybe I would have won more with them.”

He did win a second Champions League trophy – he won four in all, with three clubs – with the Spanish giants, but also picked up a reputation as somewhat bumptious, prone to question a coach’s orders, albeit out of genuine curiosity rather than as an aggressive challenge to authority.

The tendency made some national coaches of the Netherlands cautious of him.

His longevity as a top-level player and his consistent excellence were probably worth well over 100 caps. He won 87.

But the independent, self-possessed streak meant Seedorf would be valued as a dressing-room figurehead in the stable environment of AC Milan in the first seven or eight years of the new millennium.

Between Madrid and AC Milan, he had joined Inter Milan. “Inter to Milan is not always an easy decision,” he would later reflect.

“But I’ve never been a follower or gone with the masses. With hard work, I made it work.”

The coach he worked under for longest at Milan, Carlo Ancelotti, offered an endorsement last night.

“Clarence has the knowledge and ability to achieve anything in football,” said Ancelotti, now at Real Madrid.

“Anybody who worries he is not experienced enough should remember nor were Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello when they started at Milan.”

Those two legendary coaches were also Berlusconi’s choices, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It is the supremacy their Milan sides achieved that Seedorf must aspire to, as he sets out to rebuild a club sitting in the bottom half of the Serie A table.

sports@thenational.ae

TALE OF TWO CLUBS

Massimiliano Allegri was the first AC Milan coach to lose his job midseason since Fatih Terim in late 2001. Since Terim, only three men have held the post. Two of them, Carlo Ancelotti – who was succeeded for one season by Leonardo – and Allegri won the league. Ancelotti won two European Cups.

In the same period, neighbours Inter have had 11 different coaches – Hector Cuper, Corrado Verdelli, Alberto Zaccheroni, Roberto Mancini, Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stramaccioni and Walter Mazzarri. Only Mancini and Mourinho won the scudetto. Mourinho won one European Cup.

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