While Kaka has taken most of the plaudits during AC Milan's inexorable march towards UEFA Champions League glory in Athens, the resurgent form of the Brazilian's midfield foil, Clarence Seedorf was just as crucial to the Rossoneri's success.
"For Milan it's essential that Clarence plays," Kaka recently said of his Dutch team-mate to FIFA.com. "He can turn it on at the highest level. He was super against Bayern Munich [in the quarter-finals], and against Manchester United he was absolutely fantastic. If you can do that, then you're a big player."
It is now a full 12 years since the Surinam-born Seedorf picked up his first Champions League medal while he was still a teenager at Ajax. He has since become the only player in history to win the trophy with three different clubs, having gone on to enjoy similar triumphs with Real Madrid in 1998 and AC Milan in 2003. Last Wednesday's fourth winner's medal means that only club captain Paolo Maldini can now boast more. And as the Dutchman told FIFA.com, the Champions League was not his only cause for celebration last week.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to have won the Champions League
Clarence Seedorf: Absolutely fantastic especially since it has been a very, very difficult year for us - for everyone connected to the club - and everyone has worked enormously to achieve this. At the moment there is just a complete explosion of emotions. It will take a bit of time before the realisation of our achievements sinks in. When you consider how far we have come after being in a deep dip then this victory is exceptional, to say the least.
You won your first Champions League winner's medal when
you were just 19, playing for Ajax. How did that victory compare
with the latest one?
That seems so long ago! Believe me, every time I have won, I have experienced different emotions, but they are not ones that you can describe easily. The only things I can find to say at the moment are that it is unbelievable, simply fantastic. To win the Champions League gives you a very special feeling inside. That cannot be defined, it can only be felt.
How difficult was it playing against a team that plays like
It was hard and they're a very difficult team to play against with that type of football.
Rafael Benitez set out to freeze you out of the game. Did
you sense that?
Yes I noticed that, since my teammates were having real difficulty finding me. It was like that from the first minute and I was conscious of being isolated for the whole match. In that respect, Liverpool succeeded in achieving their plan.
With all your experience, and having played against
Liverpool before, you must have had a good idea about how
Wednesday's final would unfold?
Yes. It wasn't what you would call a nice final, and we knew that would be the case playing against Liverpool. We had to be on our guard for the whole match and make sure we didn't give anything away. But we were sure that if we were patient and ready to wait for our chances, we would be able to create opportunities for ourselves. Thankfully we scored at the right moment, just before half-time, and that helped a lot.
Would you agree that Milan got a lucky break with that
Yes, but it was welcome, as Liverpool are a very rigid team who are hard to cope with. So I was pleased that we were able to break down their resistance from that free-kick.
Pippo Inzaghi, who scored both goals for you, has a
phenomenal record over the years. How does he do it?
He's been doing this for years. He is always in the right place at the right time, so you cannot call it chance or luck any more. I'm really happy for him.
Kaka is always a key figure for AC Milan, but perhaps this
season more than any other, wouldn't you say?
This year Kaka has played further up the pitch, almost as a forward, and he has been lethal. He has decided a lot of matches for us. Look at his record. He is the top scorer in the Champions League, and in my mind he completely deserves to win the Ballon d'Or. But, believe me, he can improve, he hasn't reached his maximum yet.
And you have also been playing in a new role this season.
Tell us about that.
I've finally been given the chance to play in the position I prefer: a little bit further up the pitch, and more central - just behind the two forwards. I've scored 10 goals this season, which I consider a really good achievement. Physically I'm in perfect shape, the coach trusts me and the club always aims high. It's difficult to go wrong when you play for Milan."
This is your fourth Champions League winner's medals.
You must be getting used to this now. Surely it can't feel as
special as the first one?
They are all different and they are all special. It might be the fourth, but I still can't find any words to describe how I feel right now. It's unbelievable. This is my 11th year playing in the Champions League and out of those 11 years, I've won it four times, which is not bad!"
What do you do with all the Champions League medals that you have won?
I just put them in the cupboard!
You must need some extra cupboards!
(Laughs) There is always room for more cupboards at home - or at least that is what I am told!
Are the medals from each of the four finals exactly the
Well, the year changes, of course, and there are a few small differences in the design, but basically they're all the same.
And we believe Wednesday's victory is not the only
cause for celebration in the Seedorf household. You're due to
become a father again, right?
Yes it's fantastic. Unbelievable. The other 'trophy' will be arriving in a few days.
The day after this interview, in fact, Clarence's new son, Denzel was born. A perfect end to a fairy tale month.