During a chat last year with FIFA.com in Rio de Janeiro, it soon became clear that Clarence Seedorf looked at the game not only from the point of view of a cerebral midfielder, but also as a novice coach taking his first steps. So much so that when we asked him if he planned to move into coaching, “absolutely” was his emphatic and immediate answer.
Fast forward five months from that interview and the future has arrived for the Dutchman. On Tuesday, Seedorf announced that he is hanging up his boots, but not walking away from the game. This week he is back in Milan, taking his place in the Italian club’s dugout and starting his career as a coach.
For the fans of Botafogo, his last club as a player, it was obvious to see the vocation of their star player as a mentor. His presence was fundamental for the team, which won the Rio de Janeiro State Championship in 2013, were among the leaders in the Brazilian Championship for much of the season, and which qualified for the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 1996. He was especially influential for the young players who came to the fore, such as centre-back Doria or forward Vitinho, who today plays for CSKA Moscow.
Seedorf’s teachings, in fluent Portuguese, were intense and involved a lot of tactical knowledge. “Positioning on the pitch, for example. When we play I put a lot of emphasis on our shape before we get possession of the ball,” he said in the exclusive interview. “We talk about this in the dressing room, when we are at the academy, when we are travelling, after training, every day. I believe this is a continuation of our job. You have to want to improve all the time.”
This is the mentality the coach will be impressing at Milan, as he stated when harking back to his Rossoneri playing days. “Even when I was at Milan, my great Milan team, we were always pushing one another to improve every day. When you stop wanting to improve, you go stale. You can’t allow yourself to go stale if you want to win.”
Seedorf knows more about winning than most. For Milan he won the UEFA Champions League twice, the UEFA Super Cup and the Italian Championship, as well as the FIFA Club World Cup. Before moving to Italy he had already picked up Champions League winners' medals with Ajax and Real Madrid. And these are merely the main conquests in a long list of triumphs.
First steps on the coaching road
Backed up by this victory-laden CV and the experience gained from major triumphs, his declarations in that August interview made it clear that Seedorf was paving the way for the next stage in his career. In Brazil he also worked on the practical side of his coaching skills, and not only in terms of discussing the game with his team-mates.
He told FIFA.com that he had already obtained his UEFA 'A' coaching badge and that he was also training young players from local teams. “I started as soon as the idea was suggested to me. I began training the young players at Nova Iguacu and at Boavista and I enjoyed it. I had always wanted to be a coach, and this accelerated the process. I am now doing the final part to obtain the UEFA 'Pro' badge. I’m training 17 year-olds at Boavista, which is the practical part, and I’m learning the theory by doing the tasks that coaches in the Netherlands do.”
Seedorf now returns to Milan with more strings to his bow and a huge challenge in front of him: to try and lift a team that is languishing in 11th place in Serie A, 30 points behind leaders Juventus. The poor season cost Massimiliano Allegri his job and ended up bringing Seedorf’s retirement forward. “The dismissal was decisive. The call came and I have a very strong relationship with the president. I couldn’t say no,” he admitted this Tuesday, in saying his goodbyes in Rio.
Now, instead of training adolescents he will have many of his former team-mates in his charge, such as Brazilian superstar Kaka. “This is the cycle of football, the cycle of life. There’s no escaping it, and it has happened to several coaches in the past. It won’t be a problem, just the opposite,” he said. “I’m going to stop playing football after 22 years. It was a difficult night, but I’m satisfied with what I did in my career, and what I did at Botafogo. The experience over the last one-and-a-half years has allowed me to evolve a lot and helped me take my next step forward,” he added.
For coach Seedorf, the future starts today.