Newspaper article International New York Times

Mr. Seedorf Jumps Straight into the Coaching Fire at Milan

Newspaper article International New York Times

Mr. Seedorf Jumps Straight into the Coaching Fire at Milan

Article excerpt

Clarence Seedorf has gone straight from being a player in Brazil to being the manager at A.C. Milan, which sits in 11th place in Serie A.

Clarence Seedorf is the "Mister" in Milan now. A week ago, he was playing out his contract in Rio de Janeiro. Then, he took the call from Silvio Berlusconi's people asking him to come "home" to rescue his former team, A.C. Milan -- not as a player, but as the man in charge.

It was like taking a worker from the factory floor and putting him in charge of the company. But soccer is no ordinary workplace, and Seedorf no ordinary employee.

Forsaking the hot sunshine of Brazil for the cold and wet of Milan was clearly irresistible. Within 48 hours, and without ever qualifying as a professional coach (which is a prerequisite in Italian soccer), he had signed the contract.

And within another day, he was calling out the cavalry of players, coaches, masseurs and medical staff members. He didn't have to lay his medals on the table because they are there, written in stone. Clarence Seedorf, not yet 38, had won the Champions League four times, with three different clubs. He had played the best decade of his life on a Milan squad that was bankrolled by Berlusconi to be up there with the Real Madrids, the Manchester Uniteds, the Bayern Munichs.

"My first words to the team," he said, "were to bring back the joy and enthusiasm in playing football, show that we know we are lucky to have a job that is almost a hobby. We are at the start of an emotional journey."

There is a difference between saying it and meaning it. Everything about Seedorf's story has been mind over matter. Obviously, he had the skill to play at the highest level. Clearly he learned how to adapt and rise, from lowly beginnings in Suriname, the former Dutch colony in South America, to be a big-time winner with Ajax of Amsterdam, Real Madrid, Milan and the Dutch national team.

"I'd been preparing for my post-playing career mentally for a very long time," he said over the weekend. "I believe I gave all I had in Brazil, and as soon as I got the call, I made myself available."

Without hesitation or thought for self-preservation?

Seedorf collected an overcoat and marched boldly into Milan. By Sunday, he had picked his first lineup. It embraced every attacking talent on the club's books: Mario Balotelli, Ricardo Kaka, Robinho and the new arrival from Moscow, the Japanese star Keisuke Honda.

The word in Italy for the head coach is "Mister." And, while questions were asked how Seedorf could walk right in as a "Mister" without training for the job, he was going to do this his way.

It has happened abroad. Johan Cruyff and Kenny Dalglish are examples of famous players who converted instantly into winning managers.

But in Italy? In Milan, a club split by a long power struggle in the boardroom between Adriano Galliani, who has run the club for decades, and Barbara Berlusconi, who is the owner's ambitious daughter? …

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