Title dream drives Seedorf
© AFP

Most wining football teams have an intangible quality making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. A team sheet made up of the most prestigious names is usually not enough to ensure victory. Titles and silverware are not won with athleticism and technique alone, but also with intelligent men of character who can cement a winning feeling in the dressing room.

In this category comes Clarence Seedorf. The Suriname-born player is one of those rare breed of footballers able to make a difference both on the pitch and in the locker room. The 31-year-old, now plying his trade in Italy with Serie A giants AC Milan, has a suitcase full of medals to prove it, including four UEFA Champions League winners medals gained at three different clubs (Ajax, Real Madrid and two with AC Milan). Other trophies held aloft during an illustrious career are the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup won at Real Madrid, two UEFA Super Cups, four national league titles and six national cups.

The Dutch midfielder has also had his share of lows along the way, and more than once in matches decided by penalty shootouts. The most significant of these were the semi-final defeat by Brazil during the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, the loss to Boca Juniors in the 2003 Intercontinental Cup and failure against Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final.

A new challenge

Seedorf spoke to FIFA.com as he prepares with his AC Milan team-mates to represent Europe at the FIFA Club World Cup to be staged in Yokohama, Japan, from 7 to 16 December 2007. As can you imagine the player known as the Panther is keen to lay his paws on yet another trophy. "I'm very happy to take part in this competition for the third time in my career, although this will be the first time under the new format," he explains.

"If anything the tournament is even more prestigious than in the past because seven teams from around the world are playing. We need to prepare as well as we can, because there's no guarantee that being the most decorated team, along with Boca Juniors, will be enough for overall victory. Mexican side Pachuca, as well as the African and Asian representatives, will all be motivated by many factors."

AC Milan have prepared the trip to Japan down to the tiniest detail to ensure the team takes to the field in perfect metal and physical condition. The Italians have made the FIFA Club World Cup their top priority for the season following three reverses in the tournament over the last 14 years, against Sao Paulo, Velez Sarsfield and Boca Juniors.

Carlo Ancelotti's men will arrive in Japan on 6 December to provide enough time for acclimatisation and to recover from the effects of jetlag. "A week should be enough to recuperate from the long journey," says Seedorf, "and seven days is an ideal period to gradually soak up the atmosphere of the event, something which we perhaps overlooked in 2003."

The outstanding midfielder of the 2007 UEFA Champions League makes it clear that penalties are to be avoided, if at all possible, in the semi-final and any final. Seedorf has some powerful memories of penalty shootouts gone wrong in decisive matches but uses this as a spur when faced with the long and lonely walk from centre circle to penalty spot. "I think I have the technical qualities needed to take penalties, but many other factors come into play at the time," he says.

"It really is a lottery. I struck the ball well in the 2003 Champions League final in Manchester but (Gianluigi) Buffon did very well to save. We managed to win that one though and it's much easier to forget when you win. Other mistakes are harder to forget, but at the end of the day only someone prepared to take responsibility can fail. I'm in esteemed company when it comes to this".

To the future
Youth team football is another aspect of the game the Dutch ace holds dear to his heart. Speaking about Japan, Seedorf states: "There's a good chance we'll have to meet an Asian team in the semi-final, maybe even a Japanese one. Football there is growing and there's also an enormous amount of potential. I'm sure discipline, a famed Japanese characteristic, will help young players in that country to improve more quickly."

Seedorf has already set up a foundation to promote youth football in some of the world's poorest countries. He hopes to develop this mission further when his own playing days are over: "Retirement is still a long way off for me and I still haven't decided exactly what I'll do when I stop playing.

"Who knows I might become a coach and then again I might do something else. I believe much can be done for young players. Too many talents fall by the wayside at a young age and it's not only their fault. The system could be radically improved."

Switching back to his desire to become a world champion, Seedorf added: "Netherlands coach Marco van Basten didn't pick me for three years and so I missed the World Cup in Germany, which was a huge disappointment. However, because of that, I've been able to focus on AC Milan and have definitely earned the right to be Japan with my contribution. I can now play in a World Cup myself and hopefully win it."