"I never realised that to become a jockey you needed to be a horse first," AC Milan coaching great Arrigo Sacchi once said. Often, though, great midfielders do go on to become successful coaches – a transition the Rossoneri hope will apply to Clarence Seedorf.
Indeed, the current leaders of many a European top flight – the Spanish Liga (FC Barcelona/Gerardo Martino), Bundesliga (FC Bayern München/Josep Guardiola), Serie A (Juventus/Antonio Conte) and Portuguese Liga (SL Benfica/Jorge Jesus) – are coached by former midfielders. Furthermore, stellar national sides such as Spain (Vicente del Bosque), France (Didier Deschamps) and Italy (Cesare Prandelli) have ex-midfielders in the dugout. Milan themselves claimed their three most recent UEFA Champions League titles under midfielders – Fabio Capello (1994) and Carlo Ancelotti (2003 and 2007).
"Just because you are a midfielder, it does not necessarily mean you are destined to become a manager," said Guardiola, like Seedorf another natural leader on the pitch. "But yes, it's true that when you have to play in the middle, you have to see almost everything, every aspect of the game – even more so as a holding midfielder.
"You have to think more about the group rather than yourself. You not only have to play, but also understand why certain things happen on the field. As a player, I used to struggle quite a lot physically. I had to look at tricky situations beforehand, I had to study my opponents beforehand." All things Seedorf knows well.
I started covering Milan for UEFA.com in 2002 when the then Dutch international joined the Rossoneri having already won the UEFA Champions League with AFC Ajax and Real Madrid CF. I subsequently saw him lift the trophy with the big ears twice, all the while charming everybody with his strong personality and peculiar intelligence during a ten-year spell with the Rossoneri. His nickname, 'Il Professore', is certainly appropriate.
Even though Seedorf, 37, had great teachers himself, having played for the likes of Louis van Gaal, Capello and Jupp Heynckes, his switch from playing to coaching has been quick. How much will he pay for a lack of experience?
"Seedorf has the capacity and knowledge to do everything in the world of football," said Ancelotti, who worked with him at Milan. "He is going to get experience in an atmosphere he knows very well. Milan have often made this kind of decision: first Sacchi, who had no experience, then Capello, now Seedorf. I wish him the best of luck."
He will not solve all Milan's problems with a touch of his magic wand, as evidenced by the Rossoneri's continued struggles in Serie A, yet Seedorf has already made his football philosophy clear. His Milan side will try to play attractive football with four attacking players covered by two holding midfielders.
A return to form for new signing Michael Essien may be crucial in this sense, because the former Chelsea FC man could build a solid barrier alongside Nigel de Jong, allowing Seedorf to use all his attacking weapons, included another January acquisition, Adel Taarabt. "'The Professor' is never wrong," said Prandelli after Seedorf's appointment. "He is a football connoisseur and doesn't need any advice."
Time, however, is ticking and the UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie against Club Atlético de Madrid approaches fast. This duel with a fellow former midfield lion in Diego Simeone will say a lot about Seedorf's first foray into management.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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