By Federico Casotti
"I was born ready." So said Clarence Seedorf, paraphrasing the movie 'Big Trouble in Little China', after being asked by Leonardo if he was in the right shape and frame of mind for a Milan derby.
The facts suggest that Seedorf was right. This is a man who, as a player, won the Champions League at the age of 19. Now, he is about to begin his coaching career at AC Milan just a few days after hanging up his boots.
Milan have long thought Seedorf was born ready. Indeed, the club's former psychologist, Bruno De Michelis, told Simon Zwartkruis in the writer's official biography of Seedorf: "Clarence thinks 70 per cent like a coach, 20% like a sporting director, and 10% as a player."
Given that declaration dates back to 2003, one can understand why the idea of bringing Seedorf back as a coach has never seemed that farfetched at San Siro.
With his undeniable charisma, which his detractors would argue borders on arrogance, Seedorf the player perfectly embodied the characteristics of the typical Dutch footballer: technically talented, tactically astute and highly opinionated.
"If you know so much, why don't you be the coach!"
- Capello to Seedorf when at Real Madrid
As Simon Kuper explained in his book, 'The Football Men', "A squad is a hierarchy founded on the coach. But Seedorf has the belief that it is more a kind of group discussion upon which each player can impress his personality ... This is of great irritation to coaches, who hate the idea of players prefering their own words to theirs."
The truth is that Seedorf has always divided opinions, especially in Netherlands, where a survey before Euro 2000 revealed that 81% of Oranje fans did not want him in the national team squad.
He was considered disruptive presence, who facilitated the typical division of players into rival clans, which repeatedly ruined so many Dutch dreams of international glory. When Edwin van der Sar and Edgar Davids were playing together at Juventus, Seedorf, who was plying his trade at Inter, heard far more often from the goalkeeper than his fellow midfielder.
Although, conversely, now that his backroom team is taking shape, 'The Pitbull' is in pole position for a prime role, together with another former team-mate, Patrick Kluivert, who has passed from world-class forward to a great youth team coach (he won an underage title with Twente in 2012).
Whatever one says about him, Seedorf is a unique character in the world of football. Anecdotes relating to his very particular attitude are plentiful. Indeed, Kuper recounts that during the midfielder's first year at Madrid, he once dared to give a tactical team talk to his colleagues during the half-time break. The then-Blancos boss Fabio Capello took off his jacket and handed it to the Dutchman, shouting, "If you know so much, why don't you be the coach?" Twenty years on, his turn has arrived.