The immortal Clarence Seedorf and an insatiable desire for success

The Century: This week, The Independent is counting down the 100 best players of the last twenty years with the former AC Milan maestro arriving at No 66

Jack Rathborn
Tuesday 15 October 2019 08:47
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Clarence Seedorf's Best Skills

Clarence Seedorf had already established himself as one of Europe’s finest at the turn of the century, but it was never going to be enough. The Dutch midfielder’s insatiable appetite for success would be Italian football’s gain as he proceeded to prance around the peninsula and Europe during a golden era for AC Milan.

Dynamic, yet composed, with polished technique, Seedorf provided the glue between the majestic duo of Andrea Pirlo and Kaka. Able to dictate, break lulls in play with fierce shots from distance or sprinkle a finishing touch atop a sweeping Rossoneri move, Seedorf was fundamental to one of the immortal teams of modern European football.

Despite emerging from the prestigious Ajax academy and establishing himself at Real Madrid in the nineties, Seedorf became synonymous with the red and black stripes.

A fundamental cog for Carlo Ancelotti, interchangeable on either side of the base or adept at slotting in towards the top of the Christmas tree.

Some might say it was fate that took Seedorf - a complete Dutch midfielder with a Surinamese background - from Amsterdam to AC Milan, following the path taken by one of his inspirations: Frank Rijkaard, even after a brief stint with bitter rivals Inter.

It is that burning desire to never be satisfied that has enabled Seedorf to become a pioneer as such, able to forge several peaks into a career that spread across three decades.

“I was already dreaming about winning the Champions League three times,” Seedorf told the Guardian. “My idol, Frank Rijkaard had won it twice at that stage and so I wanted to win one more than him.

“When you have ambition then it’s never enough to win. If I was happy with three trophies, then suddenly I had to have four. If I was happy with four then I had to have five.

"A couple of months [to enjoy it], then when you start again the next season. All you can think about it is wanting to do it again.”

Arguably Seedorf and Milan’s most compelling years came after the heartbreak of Istanbul in 2005, where they displayed bundles of resilience to banish any doubts over their credentials, storming back for one more crack at glory. After Bayern Munich were dispatched in the quarter-finals in 2007, Milan would comprehensively outplay Manchester United over two legs – a victory that would age supremely, like a veteran fighter humbling a young contender, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side capturing the European crown a year later.

Clarence Seedorf turns to celebrate after scoring vs Manchester United

Despite a late rally from United at Old Trafford that year to snatch a slender first-leg lead, Kaka’s brace had already left those watching, and many of those playing in red, in a trance. Ancelotti’s well-drilled outfit were not in the mood to rely on their away goals advantage either, instead surging into a two-goal lead early on.

It was Seedorf’s divine volley from the edge of the area, having steadied himself after a wild Nemanja Vidic challenge, that clinched victory, though Alberto Gilardino would add a third late on.

Seedorf runs away in delight with the Champions League trophy in Athens

“An incredible explosion of emotions,” Seedorf recalled after that victory on a damp night in Milan, validating Seedorf’s drive on a path to redemption following the miracle of Istanbul and the Calciopoli scandal.

Seedorf’s longevity, 165 European appearances across 20 years, enabled him to shine bright while others had long-since faded towards retirement. A gem of a midfielder, who built an astonishing body of work, Seedorf is now rightfully heralded as an all-time great.

The Century

This week, we are counting down the 100 greatest players of the 21st century, revealing 20 per day until the winner is announced on Friday.

We asked 10 of our football writers to select 50 players, with each pick awarded points contributing to a final score.

Join us throughout the week for a wide selection of exclusive interviews and features, as we celebrate the best players of the last twenty years.

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