Clarence Seedorf celebrates his 39th birthday today, allowing UEFA.com to look back on his unique achievement in a UEFA Champions League career full of "unforgettable evenings".
The only player to have won the UEFA Champions League with three different teams – AFC Ajax, Real Madrid CF and AC Milan – Clarence Seedorf considers himself to have a special bond with Europe's premier club competition.
"Emotions, memories – more good ones than bad ones, fortunately," he said as he reflected on the competition. "But specifically great moments of entertainment, great football, unforgettable evenings. I think that's what it's all about: experience, emotions and the special touch that the Champions League brings on and off the field."
UEFA.com recalls the 39-year-old Dutchman's four UEFA Champions League triumphs.
1994/95: AFC Ajax
Seedorf made his first-team debut on 28 October 1992, coming on for current Ajax coach Frank de Boer in a cup tie against VVV-Venlo. He was the club's youngest Eredivisie debutant that November, aged 16 years, seven months and 28 days, and soon became a crucial member of the golden generation. Guided by veterans Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard, this was a youthful outfit featuring future stars such as the De Boer twins, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen and Patrick Kluivert, that reached its peak in the 1994/95 UEFA Champions League.
Two 2-0 group-stage victories against Milan boded well and Louis van Gaal's charges repeated the trick in the final, defeating the Rossoneri 1-0 courtesy of substitute Kluivert's late strike. "Everyone dreams of winning a European Cup final and I was lucky to do it at just 19," said Seedorf. "As soon as I woke up [the day after the final] I felt different, strange, somehow special. We had a very talented young team with a group of six or seven players who were the leaders of the squad. Some of us played together from very young and we felt like brothers."
1997/98: Real Madrid CF
Seedorf left Ajax after that glorious night in Vienna, spending a solitary season with UC Sampdoria before moving to the Spanish capital. He tasted European success in his second campaign in Madrid, helping the Merengues oust holders Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals. The midfielder then came up against former team-mate Davids in the decider against Juventus, held at their old stomping ground, the Amsterdam ArenA.
The showpiece was again settled by a solitary goal, Predrag Mijatović this time doing the damage midway through the second half to earn Madrid a first European Cup in 32 years. "It had become more than an obsession for the club," said Seedorf. "Every day we would go and eat in a restaurant and all everyone talked about was the final. Now I am going to have a party [in Amsterdam] and then again in Madrid!"
2002/03 and 2006/07: AC Milan
The Netherlands schemer joined FC Internazionale Milano in 2000 and two years later signed for the Nerazzurri's city rivals. He promptly lifted Europe's biggest prize in his first term with Milan, after helping the Rossoneri beat former employers Madrid in the group stage, Ajax in the last eight and Inter in the semis.
Milan edged out Juventus in the final, prevailing on penalties – Seedorf missed his – after a goalless draw at Old Trafford. "It's incredible, incredible," he said afterwards. "I don't have any words. I am so, so happy. It has been a great spectacle for us, a great atmosphere, a great stadium."
There was still more to come. Runners-up in 2005, Seedorf and Carlo Ancelotti's side gained revenge with victory against Liverpool FC in the 2007 showpiece in Athens, Filippo Inzaghi scoring both goals. Seedorf started the match and was substituted in added time.