Over the years, the impact of Dutch players on Milan has been immense. Having covered the greats like Van Basten and Gullit in part–I of this series, this write up pays tribute to Rijkaard and Seedorf. Both of these players belonged to two different eras with the latter leaving no stone unturned in carrying forward the dutch legacy which the trio of Marco, Gullit and Rijkaard had left at Milan.
(Rossoneri: 1988-93; Appearances- 142; Goals- 16)
Starting of in the youth sector at Ajax, he was drafted into their senior team in 1980, where he spent first seven years of his professional football-ing career. He later went back to the same club where he first kicked the round thing to hang up his boots but it was his spell of five years at the San Siro that lifted him to a legendary status. An astute tactician from his early days itself, he played a pivotal role in helping A.C. Milan reach the pinnacle of club football in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
With his arrival in 1988, the famous Dutch trio at Milan was complete. In the coming years, these three would go on to receive almost every individual and team honor in club football. Sacchi was a hard task master and every player who has played under him would vouch for it. Having played at the heart of the defense during his Ajax days, he got transformed into a world class defensive midfielder during his stay at Milan. Till date, the Dutchman is considered amongst one of the best defensive midfielders to have played the beautiful game for which he has always given the credit to Sacchi.
The fact that he was an important part of Sacchi’s Gli Immortali and later of Capello’s Gli Invicibili speaks volume about the importance of his presence in the squad.
If one believes that his contribution to the IL Diavolo is only restricted to the midfield then one is highly mistaken. Over the years, he has scored some memorable goals in some high profile encounters like the only goal in the final of 1990 European Cup against Benfica and a brace in the Intercontinental Cup final in the same year.
Although after the 1990 world cup incident involving Rudi Voeller, which resulted in the media giving him the nickname of “The llama”, his temperament will always be questioned; but it can’t be denied that when he was at the helm of Milan, the club received unparalleled success in both Italy and Europe. He is truly a Milan legend.
His list of personal and team laurels with Milan include the following trophies:
UEFA Champions League- 1989, 1990, Serie A-1991-92, 1992-93, Serie A- Best foreign player 1992, Intercontinental Cup- 1989, 1990, European Super Cup- 1989, 1990
(Rossoneri: 2002-present; Appearances- 279; Goals- 44)
The master of long range shots had two champions’ league medals in his kitty with two different clubs (Ajax-1995 and Real Madrid -1998) before he wore the red and black stripes at Milan. Like Rijkaard and Van Basten he also started his career at Ajax where he became the youngest debutant for them at the age of 16 in 1992. For him, the first taste of Calcio came at Sampdoria where he spent only one season before being engulfed by the mighty Los Blancos. A record €23M transfer saw him leave Madrid for Inter Milan in the 1999-2000 but it was at A.C Milan that he would gain the unique distinction of becoming the only player to have lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy with three different clubs – a record that hasn’t been matched till date.
After the departure of the famous Dutch trio from Milan, the club went through a drought of titles at the European level. However, with the arrival of Seedorf, that changed for good. Milan won Coppa Italia in his very first year of being a rossoneri – a trophy which had eluded the club for a staggering twenty-six years. But most importantly, Milan went back to being the kings of Europe after a wait of nine years in the same season after getting the better of Juventus on penalties in the Old Trafford final.
He quickly gelled with the team and played a crucial role in Milan’s march towards their 17th scudetto the following season by not just scoring, but assisting on numerous occasions.
The Dutchman formed a lethal partnership with Kaka at the front and became the heart and soul of the midfield by scripting some mind boggling moves at the center of the pitch. He led Milan to another Champions league final at Istanbul in 2005 against Liverpool that ended in heartbreak for the IL Diavolo.
In the meantime, the Calciopoli match fixing scandal hit Serie A and the dignity of most of the Italian football-ing giants was questioned. Juventus got relegated to the Serie B and Milan were docked 30 points from 05-06 and 8 points from 06-07 season respectively that gifted the league titles to their arch rivals Inter Milan.
While the Italian league was in turmoil, Milan continued to dominate at the European level and Seedorf was their chief architect in midfield. Along with Kaka, he was literally untouchable and gave Manchester United a football-ing lesson of sorts in the return leg of the 2006-07 champions league semi-final at the San Siro. In the repeat of the 2004-05 final against Liverpool, Milan started slowly but went on to avenge their defeat at Istanbul to lift their 7th Champions league trophy. Seedorf was adjudged the winner of UEFA’s best midfielder award that season for the second time having won it before at Madrid nine years ago.
He kept on marshalling his troops in midfield and saw Milan lifting the FIFA Club World Cup in 2007 for the very first time.
These were probably his best years in the Milan jersey. He was blessed with the superb ability to make moves out of nothing on the field and his ability to control the ball was second to none.
However, with age catching up on him slowly but steadily, he started becoming the bud of all jokes. In the following seasons he lost his speed considerably and was often out-paced by the opponents in the middle of the pitch. Voices demanding his ouster from the team were gaining momentum but his coaches – i.e. Ancelloti, Leonardo and Allegri – never lost trust in the Milan faithful.
After the exit of Kaka, and with the likes of Rino, Ambrosini, Pirlo and Seedorf, Milan were left with an ageing midfield; something with came to haunt them, when last season they were humiliated by Manchester United who handed them a 4-0 mauling in the Champions league.
Cut to present..
A number of changes took places before the 2010-11 seasons began with the arrival of Allegri (manager), Robinho and Ibrahimovic and Boateng to name a few. It was certainly now or never for all the Senators and not just Seedorf.
Seedorf didn’t have an auspicious beginning to this season as well and squandered a number of chances in front of the goal.
Meanwhile, the Ghanaian (Boateng) acted as a breath of fresh air in midfield for the rossoneri and along with Flamini, Van Bommel and Cassano helped Milan hold their own in midfield. The winter break saw as many as eleven squad members of Milan suffering from injuries and that’s when the turnaround happened. With Ambrosini and Pirlo getting ruled out till the end of the season, it was left up to Seedorf to show his true character. Allegri realized that Clarence no longer possessed the pace to cause havoc up front but he knew that his presence on the pitch was crucial.
And so, a new role for the senator was put on paper by manager Max. He took over the role of a defensive midfielder from the injured Pirlo (who was also having a season to forget), a few weeks into the second half and the results started pouring in. Seedorf netted his first goal in February against Parma and the confidence came back. With his contract ending at the end of the year, Milan fans were gunning for his head but he replied just the way a champion should i.e. by performing on the pitch. A lot of credit for his renaissance goes to Allegri and the support he has received from Van Bommel.
As things stand now, the title has been sealed with two matches still to go and after a long wait of seven years Milan has finally been crowned as champions of Italy for the 18th time. Seedorf can proudly say that he had a big role to play in possibly the sweetest championship which Milan has won in the past few years.
Whether he would still be seen in the Milan colors next season remains in doubt but the influence which he has had in the dressing room over players like Cassano, Ibrahimovic, Robinho and till January, Ronaldinho is immense and can’t be ruled out. He showcased his character in the latter half of the season and after all the jeers he received from the Milanistas, he dedicated the Scudetto to the fans.
If he leaves Milan, he leaves a true champion – battered by criticism, but finished like a gladiator.
His list of personal and team laurels with Milan include-:
UEFA Champions League- 2003, 2007 , Serie A-2003-04, 2010-11, Coppa Italia: 2002–03, UEFA Best Midfielder Award: 2006–07, FIFA World Cup Silver Ball: 2007, UEFA Team of the Year: 2002, 2007, FIFA Club World Cup: 2007, UEFA Super Cup: 2003, 2007