While Europe is preparing for a German CL and Arjen Robben is trying to talk some bravado into himself (he really really wants it) and even the most optimistic Oranje supporter can find some reason to see a Dutch feint stripe of glory in Borussia Dortmund ( Bert van Marwijk had something to do with the Dortmund’s current success as he turned the club around in the mid naughties when the Borussen were out of money and Bert had to rely on the youth system to survive) and while we will look at the result tomorrow, it is fun – I thought – to focus on the most successful player Holland ever had.
Clarence Seedorf. Master midfielder. CL record holder. Serial trophy winner. Entrepreneur. Humanitarian. Sports ambassador. Cosmopolitan. Penalty choker. Global Brand. Wise guy.
When he visited Brazil some time back with (now) King WA and Maxima, one camera team followed the royal couple, while the rest followed the King of Panna.
I have never been a huge fan of Seedorf. But secretly I wanted to be him.
When he was 13 years old, his name went was whispered in the streets of Amsterdam. The supporters visiting De Toekomst on a daily basis, knew it. “There is another one coming…” Since the days of Jopie Cruyff, that little sentence holds so much promise…
“There is another one coming…”…. Louis van Gaal, Dennis Bergkamp, Martin van Geel, Rob Reinders, Marco van Basten, Gerald Vanenburg, Dick van Burik, John van ‘t Schip, Cedric van der Gun, Tarik Oulida, Frank Rijkaard… Sometimes they’d make it, sometimes they didn’t….
Clarence Seedorf was lucky that no one compared him to Cruyff (as was done with players like Van ‘t Schip). A comparison no one can carry, really. But if comparison was needed, I believe Brazilian legend Pele would be more relevant.
Physically strong, with a truly positive outlook on life and attitude, extremely skilled (although Pele could head the ball and I don’t think I ever saw Clarence do this) and very smart (not sure about Pele on this one…).
But comparisons fall short.
With 37 years on the clock and another title in the backpack (Botafogo in Brazil), Clarence is now looking at the next step in his career. Winning another CL is probably not happening for him, although Ancelotti might try and sign him for one more season at Real Madrid? Who knows…
Seedorf’s name, however, is being linked to AC Milan again. This time, not as a player, but as Allegri’s successor. Seedorf, who was just offered a sped-up training course with the KNVB, would take the reigns with Paulo Maldini, the rumour goes….
He looks back with a big smile on his year in Brazil. “What is not to like? The city of Rio is amazing! I had this appartment overlooking the Ipanema and the Copacabana. I’d drive to practice in the morning and felt like a tourist every day. What a city!”.
Seedorf used to be a late comer. Sleeping in, practice late in the day, late dinner in Milan and then some more hours spent with the family and good wine…
In Brazil, it works the other way around. To escape the tropical humidity, the Botafogo players train early in the morning and go to bed early at night.
“It took some adapting, haha, but I got used to it and it works well. Practice early in the morning was never my thing, but now I do have more time to do other things at the club.”
Yes. Apart from being their star midfielder, Seedorf is also management consultant. He trains from 9 to 11 am. Then it’s lunch with the players and while they go off to do their thing, Seedorf works at all other levels of the club. He walks around and goes from manager office to fitness center, from admin department to the website team…
“As you will know, I can’t sit still. I have too much energy for that. I have worked at top level in football for 20 years. At Ajax, Samp, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan I always had my eyes open. I asked questions. I’m inquisitive. I need to know things. And as such, I developed my own vision and Botafogo asked me to come and help them. So I do.”
Seedorf’s biggest interest lies in the physical body. Physiology. And the medical head at Botafogo is his biggest friend and fan. Altamiro Bottino: “Clarence has taught me a lot. His body is like a work of art. And he was a regular in the Milan Labs. I do graphs and stats for 20 years, but when Clarence came I had to redo the scales of the graphs. He was way ahead of all the others here. I received his stats from his ten years (!) at Milan and his physical condition now is as good as it was when he was 26 years old…. Amazing. And take into account that conditions are tougher here, with the humidity. So actually, he is fitter than when he was 26 years old….”
There many an experienced player who decided to have some fun in Brazilian football and most of them never produced. When Seedorf decided to go to the land of Samba, some were skeptical. But Seedorf delivered.
“Seedorf is a tsunami. When he came here, he changed everything,” says Bottino. “Before Seedorf, players left the practice when the coach blew the final whistle. Now, thanks to Seedorf, they hang around, they practice set-pieces, they do individual work, etc….. And you know what, I think Clarence has 3 more years of top football in him. It’s his mind that will determine when he stops, not his body.”
Seedorf’s decision to move to Brazil was quite a surprise for many. Not for the ones who know him. Tottenham Hotspur, Hiddink’s Anzhi, Fenerbahce and LA Galaxy were vying for his signature. He even spent a week with Galaxy and his buddy David Beckham but decided for Botafogo. “I never went to LA to check Galaxy out. I was there to keep myself fit for that period and to spend some time with Becks. But their management offered me a deal and I politely listened. But Brazil was always my priority. I love the Brazilian competition, I spent a lot of holidays in Rio already and love the city and Brazil is doing well as a country too. It has a buzz, I love it. And Botafogo allowed me a bigger role than just player.”
What has Clarence changed at the club, for instance?
“A couple of quick wins to start off with. After a game, the players would leave to go home. And the next morning, they’d go to do treatments of knocks and the likes and plan for the next game. Wrong! You need to do this immediately after a game. Once the game ends, the prep for the next one starts. Treatment is needed immediately, to improve fitness. Another example is the warming up. It was amateur hour. The players needed 5 to 10 minutes in the game to find their focus and rhythm. This is how you are constantly behind the 8-ball. Another little thing….when we walked into the dressing room, our jerseys were all lying about on a table. I needed those to be hanging on coathangers on the spots of the players. That gives a player a kick when he walks into the dressing room. It looks great. It gives confidence. Little things, maybe, but important….”
He goes on… “I also worked with a sports psychologist. We’d plan training camps and little workshops. We’d talk about tactics, about what we needed to improve, about each others strengths and weaknesses…. Simply trying to become more professional.”
Coach de Oliveira (52 years old) considers Seedorf to be one of his guides. “He is like a mentor to many here. I am his coach, yes. I am the man in charge of football, but Clarence is like a walking football seer, I would be stupid not to listen. My door is always open for him.”
Seedorf likes his coach, a lot. “He is super intelligent, warm and open for outside influences. Not all coaches have that. Some would see me as a threat. Carlo Ancelotti is another man with whom I have that. He was a strong player himself, and he doesn’t mind players speaking their minds. Unlike other people I worked with…”
Despite his habit of winning trophies, it’s not winning that Seedorf is focusing on. “Winning? Is not what you focus on. Winning is simply the result of what you focus on. I focus on getting better every day. And if you do well, you’ll be better than the rest. If you work hard enough and are lucky.”
But, Botafogo won the title. For the first time since 2005. Back in the days, when Garrincha was Botafogo’s top player in the 1960s, Botafogo was a force to be reckoned with. The club desperately wants to get back to that stage and break the hegemony of Flamengo and Fluminese.
The Dutch National Team will be playing their football in June 2014 in Brazil. What will the climate impact be for that?
“Not too big. June is perfect. Probably 25 degrees all around. It’s winter in Brazil then. But still humid. But with the right nutrition, and rest periods, it should be fine.”
The KNVB and Louis van Gaal have expressed their wish to use Seedorf as an ambassador for Oranje in Brazil. That must be nice for the ex-international. “Funny that! I read that too. But Van Gaal was here, apparently, 3 months ago but never contacted me. As I’ve never heard anything from the KNVB either. But they have my phone number for 25 years or so. And Louis knows me. He knows I like direct communications. But I won’t go into it via the media myself. Next topic?”
Oranje and Seedorf….
A topic that deserves a book of its own maybe? A player who would easily fall in the same list of names as Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Koeman, Van Basten… Why was his Oranje career such a disappointment?
The World Cup 2010 would have been the last tournament where he could have played for Oranje. Although according to this physiology, Brazil2014 is still an option….
“I believe the Van Basten period could have been a good one, potentially. I looked forward to the Euro2008 with him. But he was never convinced of me it seems. He didn’t see a pivotal role for me. I was one of the players…. Marco was too headstrong I think. Didn’t open up to other people’s opinions. I think this is why he clashed with Van Bommel and Van Nistelrooy too. Marco is too Dutch. I felt he never believed in me and I couldn’t pump myself up for a role on the sideline anymore. I am an all-or-nothing kinda guy.”
Bert van Marwijk never even called the midfielder up for a session. “He said in the media I was too good to be a benchwarmer…. Well…that said it all….”
Seedorf is clearly disappointed in Van Basten, more so than Van Marwijk. “Bert reached the finals with his squad in 2010. You can say that he did well. With Marco, I share the same football vision. I believe that with Mark and Ruud in the squad – and myself – he could have had an experienced ax in the team. Marco has the right attitude in terms of football tactics and technics, but he is too Dutch, too soft in his mentality. You need to be a killer and as a coach you need to be ego-less. I believe he was too….too Dutch… Weird, as he was at Milan where it’s all about the performance…but hey…. He was young and inexperienced, I’m sure he’ll look back at this and realise it could have been different.”
Seedorf believes Koeman is better equipped for National Team Manager. “You want to win silverware with Holland, you have to be realistic. Koeman was the last coach to bring Ajax far in the CL? And he was criticised for being too realistic in his tactics… Well…. what is it you want, right? I think Koeman mixes the Dutch style with South European shrewdness. He’d be a good team manager.”
Seedorf is really happy with the way Ajax is developing, with lots of his ex-mates now in the key roles. “That is just awesome. And you know what, apart from some little surprises, it was all predictable. These guys developed themselves apart from being a player and they are all where they are for a reason. Overmars was already active in business and with investing when he was a player. He belongs in the board room. Frank de Boer was a coach already when he played. Edwin van der Sar was a bigger surprise, but Edwin is the most pure, honest and loyal bloke you can find. If Ajax wants those values to reign, they picked the right guy. Dennis was a bit of a surprise. I have the highest respect for him. It was Dennis who took me under his wing at Ajax, when I was a youngster. Him and Aron Winter. Dennis is super intelligent, did you know that? I expected him to do something totally different outside of football. But as an assistant coach, I’m sure he is worth his weight in gold. Jaap Stam, haha, I never expected him to become a coach. I expected Jaap to sit on the sofa all day with his family and his huge dog, hahahaha. Don’t tell him I said this!”
Seedorf compares the Ajax direction with the way CL finalist Bayern Munich has been working for quite some time now. Is there a position within Ajax for Seedorf, maybe?
“You never know…. I have lots of energy still, so that won’t stop me….”