Clarence Seedorf: No Comparisons Necessary

There are a number of parallels that link Clarence Seedorf with his Dutch compatriot, Edgar Davids. They were both born in Suriname before moving with their families at a young age to the Netherlands, but more importantly, their footballing careers followed a similar trajectory and, enjoying similar success, they have jointly passed together into legendary status.

Both graduated as products of the famed Ajax academy, both moved to Italy, and at one point both played for both Milan giants. In addition, they were united in their experience of playing in La Liga, and of course, they combined together in midfield many times for Ajax and Holland.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Seedorf with anybody, however. The man was unique and had a talent all of his own. To this day he is the only player to have won the Champions League as a player with three different clubs, and although Cristiano Ronaldo may have designs on emulating that feat, it will always be Seedorf who achieved it first.

In a club career that lasted over two decades from his debut for Ajax as a 16-year-old in 1992 to his retirement in 2014 at Brazilian club, Botafogo, Seedorf played more than seven hundred club matches. More than one hundred of which were in the Champions League, including four finals.

Not especially tall at 176cm, Seedorf had an athleticism and strength that enabled him to cover a lot of ground and to play anywhere in midfield both defensively and offensively. He was employed variously as a defensive midfielder tasked with breaking up opponents’ attacks, and as a playmaker initiating attacks from the centre of the park.

Seedorf’s breakthrough was sudden and his influence on Ajax’s side after his record-breaking debut was immediate. Under Louis van Gaal, he established himself in the side almost at once and in his first full season, 1993 – 94, helped Ajax to the Dutch treble of the Eredivisie title, the KNVB Cup and the Dutch Super Cup.

The following season saw the first of Seedorf’s Champion League triumphs as Ajax prevailed 1-0 in the final over Juventus. At the age of just 19, this was his last significant contribution in an Ajax shirt, and somewhat surprisingly he took advantage of the recent Bosman ruling to secure himself a one-year deal at Sampdoria in Serie A.

The summer of 1996 saw a move to La Liga as he signed for Real Madrid. Already a world-class player, it was Seedorf’s time at the Bernabeu that cemented his place as a truly world-class player. In just over three seasons at the club, Seedorf again became a league title winner as La Liga was secured in 1997, and once more this was followed up by Champions League success as, again, Juventus were defeated by a single goal in 1998.

A twelve-year spell at the San Siro, followed for Seedorf. The first two years of this dozen were spent playing for Inter, while the remaining ten came in the red and black stripes of their stadium co-tenants, Milan, whom he joined in 2002 in a swap deal with Francesco Coco.

Whilst no trophies were secured during his spell with Inter, his time at Milan could not have proved more of a contrast. Two Serie A titles were secured in 2003-04 and 2010-11, as well as two further Champions League successes in 2002-03 and 2006-07.

Added into the equation were further victories in the Italian Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA World Club Cup.

At Milan, Seedorf was part of a legendary and long-standing midfield partnership alongside Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo. The three formed a formidable barrier in the centre of the park that lasted for the better part of seven seasons and contributed to so much of the success achieved under Carlo Ancelotti in that period.

Before his eventual departure from Milan in 2012, Seedorf had made more appearances for the club than any other foreigner. Named in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2002 and 2007, Seedorf was also the recipient of the UEFA Best Midfielder Award in 2007. He has also been inducted into the Milan Hall of Fame.

Not quite ready to retire, Seedorf went to Brazil to play for Botafogo for the last two years of his career. In doing so, he promptly won another title, meaning he had now tasted league success in four different countries over a twenty-year span.

Retirement finally came early in 2014 when was he was offered and accepted the position of manager back at Milan.

Seedorf’s international career lasted from 1994 to 2008, and in that time he amassed 87 appearances, scoring 11 times. Seedorf appeared in the final stages of four competitions – the Euros of 1996, 2000 and 2004, as well as the World Cup of 1998. Three semi-final appearances were the pinnacle of his international career, with the last four being reached at Euro 2000 and 2004, and the 1998 World Cup.

A stylish player, Seedorf could also add some steel when required. However, he was a respected player who was rarely in trouble with referees or the authorities. A long and distinguished career saw only two dismissals in more than twenty years.

Thus far his career in management has been stop-start, with his spell at Milan lasting a mere four months. Despite a reasonable showing in the closing months of the 2013-14 season, Seedorf was dismissed from his post that summer. Short-lived managerial spells at Shenzen FC, Atletico Paranaense, Deportivo de La Coruna and the Cameroon national team then followed.

During his playing career as well as subsequently, Seedorf has been known for his charitable works and involvement in social development projects, particularly in his native Suriname. It was in recognition of these works that he was awarded the Commander of the High-Order of the Yellow Star, and in 2011, he was knighted to the Order of Orange-Nassau.

About the author


David Nesbit

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