The big interview: Clarence Seedorf – "The manager who had the biggest cultural impact on me? Sven-Goran Eriksson"

Clarence Seedorf

Which of his four Champions League wins was the best? What's better: the Milan derby or El Clasico? And what happened to the dreadlocks? Your questions answered in April 2011

FFT has visited many a fine training complex over the years but Milanello, the Milan camp, really is something else. Nestled in the shadows of the Italian Alps, it’s a 160,000sq.m. oasis where the Rossoneri train, sleep, socialise, relax by the lake or visit the famed Milan Lab – the secret to the longevity of so many of the club’s stars. 

Players commute here from the city – it’s about an hour by car. Clarence Seedorf never drives, though. On the back seat of his car, he makes calls, reads financial newspapers, writes on his laptop. Like a CEO. Well, actually… he is a CEO. He’s head of several companies and has a lot of interests. He’s a peculiar athlete in that his brain is trained as much as his muscles. 

The last time we met him here was on the day of Ronaldinho’s arrival in 2008. The press room was packed. Everyone was waiting for a photo of the famous shirt with ‘Ronaldinho’ and ‘10’ printed on it. After all, this was a man who’d made his ‘R10’ logo a global brand. At the end of the presentation, however, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani, looking embarrassed, announced that ‘Dinho’s’ new number was 80. No.10 was Seedorf’s – and he wasn’t giving it up for anyone. Changing the Coca-Cola logo would have created less noise. No one could believe it. 

This time we’ve come armed with your posers to reflect on the career of a man with one of the most impressive trophy hauls in football (just look at that fact file!). We begin in Amsterdam, where he became Ajax’s youngest ever player...

HONOURS

  • Eredivisie 1994, 1995; KNVB Cup 1993; La Liga 1997; Copa del Rey 1997; Serie A 2004, 2011; Coppa Italia 2003; Champions League 1995, 1998, 2003, 2007; Campeonato Carioca 2013 

I heard somewhere that your parents turned down an offer from Real Madrid when you were 15. Did you agree with their decision? Did you even get a say in the matter?
Taylor Holman, Dallas
Yes, Real Madrid were after me and it was me who turned them down. It was a decision I was fully part of. I was happy at Ajax, and more importantly, I had to finish school. That was the reason I turned Real down. School first, football later. At 15, that made sense, wouldn’t you say?

You’re still Ajax’s youngest ever debutant, making your first appearance at just 16. What was going through your mind on that day in 1992? Confidence? Nerves? Terror?
Alex Andrews, Glasgow

I was living a dream. I’d already been training with the first team squad for four months, alternating them between training with the second team and going to school. Then that year I was put in the first team matchday squad and it felt like the most normal thing in the world. But years later you realise that this was anything but normal. Ajax back then were truly special; putting boys in the first team was part of their culture. I talk in the past because the game today doesn’t allow any teams to oversee the growth of a youngster. That’s not Ajax’s fault; it’s the world of football that has changed. You aren’t left to develop. Now, if a boy shows potential, big European clubs whisk them away.

Was it a hard decision to leave Holland to play for Sampdoria in Italy when you were just a teenager?
James Hodges, Colchester

My discussions with my parents gave me the chance to make a decision with a lot of thought. It is always difficult to leave a place and people that you love, but on a personal level I was looking for a new experience so I went. It was the right thing to do for my career at the time.

Clarence Seedorf, Sampdoria

Clarence left the Netherlands for Sampdoria as a 19-year-old back in 1995

CLUBS

  • 1992-95 Ajax 90 apps (11 goals)
  • 1995-96 Sampdoria 34 (4)
  • 1996-00 Real Madrid 193 (26)
  • 2000-02 Inter 91 (14)
  • 2002-12 Milan 432 (63)
  • 2012-13 Botafogo 59 (17)

How did it feel scoring on your international debut when you were 18? Did you feel that even at such a young age, you’d arrived?
Danny Fletcher, London
Yes, I made my debut against Luxembourg. That too was a fantastic year. I won Best Young Player in Holland, voted for by players and coaches, and then made my debut for the national team. Then a goal immediately. Really, what more could you ask for?

Do you remember Real Madrid with much fondness? How did La Liga compare to Serie A?
Sammy Pendo, via email

I have very pleasant memories of Madrid, where I spent three fantastic years. There is still a feeling of mutual affection between Madrid, Spain and I. The differences between Serie A and La Liga? If I had to outline them, I’d say in Spain beautiful play and ball possession counts for more than the result, but in Italy it is the exact opposite, because winning is the thing that counts the most. Milan are a good combination of beauty and the result.

If you had to pick one, which would it be: the Milan derby or El Clasico? 
Christian Brown, via Facebook

I couldn’t pick. I saw Chelsea vs Arsenal at Stamford Bridge last season, but there is nothing like Milan vs Inter or Real vs Barcelona, which are from a different world. Atletico vs Real Madrid, also, was highly charged, but not like the game with Barça. And I’d add Juventus vs Inter to the list. The atmosphere you feel from the crowd in these games is like no other, and it influences you down on 
the pitch, believe me.