| At 16, Clarence Seedorf (seen with Ruud Gullit) was named ‘veteran’ by his teammates in Ajax for his habit of dishing out advices. At 27, he is the agony uncle to both Inter and AC Milan players
Clarence Seedorf won his first Champions League final eight years ago when Ajax beat AC Milan 1-0 in Vienna. “I had just turned 19 when we won the Champions League,” he said, “and I didn’t understand what the trophy meant back then. But your first win is always special.”
His second winner’s medal came in 1998 after Real Madrid edged past Juventus. Seedorf will become the first player to win the competition with three different clubs if Milan beat Juventus on Wednesday night at Old Trafford.
“It was different winning the trophy with Real because it was almost a duty to win the competition. The club had been built with that purpose in mind. With Milan, it is different again: we are desperate to continue our renaissance as a club, and my personal honour has nothing to do with it.”
Seedorf has always been this selfless. When he broke into the Ajax team at 16, his teammates called him ‘Veteran’ because he was constantly dishing out advice. In Madrid, he helped Steve McManaman settle by translating for him and driving him around the city.
At training, there was often a break while he gave his opinion after the coach had told the squad what to do. As a former Inter Milan player, Seedorf is now the unofficial agony-uncle to footballers on both halves of Milan (and yes, he has had a busy week). When he signed for AC Milan last summer, a group of furious fans staged a protest outside the Milanello training ground, but he has since been crowned Gazzetta dello Sport’s ‘Buy of the Season’.
More significantly, Rui Costa has only looked like justifying his £28 million transfer fee since playing alongside him. “I needed to be in the side at this stage of my career and I wasn’t at Inter,” Seedorf explained. “The difference this year is the atmosphere. When everyone is happy, you don’t feel how tired you are and you can keep running all day. We have a flexible midfield with Rui Costa going wide when he has to and someone immediately moving infield to replace him. It is fluent, fluent all the time.”
It will have to be against Juventus, who are slight favourites despite losing 2-1 to AC Milan in a league game seven weeks ago. “Juventus deserve to be in the final for the way they played against Real Madrid. Did you see Gianluca Zambrotta run past Roberto Carlos so easily' I hope they go a bit slower in Manchester. It’s better for us that Pavel Nedved is suspended but it’s a shame for him. He’s a great player but Juventus are Italian champions and are not a one-man team.”
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti has said that his system works better with Seedorf in the side, and the Dutchman returned the compliment: “He won everything here in the Nineties and no one knows the club better than him.
He talks to us a lot and wants to understand our point of view before taking decisions.” As a listener himself, Seedorf appreciates that quality in others: that’s why he fell out with Real captain Fernando Hierro and there was a scuffle during which he aimed a kick at him in the showers. “He didn’t listen when I spoke to him, and sometimes you have to take justice in your own hands,” he explained.
Fabio Capello, who coached Seedorf at Real, once asked a Dutch journalist: “Whenever I say anything, Seedorf always argues with me about it. Are all Dutchmen like that'” No, came the reply, but not all Dutchmen have achieved what Seedorf has. And as he is still only 27, there is plenty of time for him to rewrite more records.