Four-time Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf returned to Milan this week as head coach following the abrupt end of an illustrious playing career spanning two decades. However, he finds his old club in utter turmoil and desperate for an injection of confidence. Is Seedorf the man to bring back the good times at the San Siro, or has controversial owner Silvio Berlusconi made the biggest mistake of his extensive tenure at the helm of the Rossoneri?

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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seedThere’s no doubting Seedorf’s credentials as a fine midfield player for Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Internazionale and Milan, as well as the Dutch national team, but handing him the unenviable task of keeping afloat what appears to be a slowly sinking vessel as a maiden coaching role seems, at first glance, a step too far. The Milan he drove on with distinction as a player is far removed from the team of today and preventing further disappointment at league level is paramount in the minds of those supporters who remember the not-too-distant glory days of Seedorf’s previous stint with the club.

The 87-times capped Netherlands international announced his immediate retirement from featuring with Brazilian side Botafogo to take the reins at Milan, in what has been an exciting, yet short-lived adventure for Seedorf with which to end his spell on the pitch. The 37-year-old felt there was no way he could turn down the call from Berlusconi to take over as head coach at a club he served with such great aplomb over a wonderful ten-year period.

Despite the romanticised view behind his return to the Milanese giants, there is a mammoth amount of work to be done for the side to become Scudetto challengers once again. They currently sit 11th in Serie A and a massive 30 points adrift of leaders Juventus; even a Champions League qualification spot would seem out of reach now, as Milan lie a rather embarrassing 20 points behind 3rd-placed Napoli after 19 matches. Meanwhile, only a meagre six points separate them from the dreaded relegation zone with half of the campaign gone.

It was a shocking 4-3 surrender to minnows Sassuolo on Sunday that finally prompted Berlusconi to act, with Massimiliano Allegri’s expected summer departure hastened in order to install fans’ favourite Seedorf in the job. The Surinam-born legend watched on last night as his new charges beat Spezia to make the last-eight of the Coppa Italia, thus giving at least some hope of a trophy come the season’s end. However, it’ll take a heck of a lot more from the current team to make up the damage caused so far in Serie A for those notoriously fanatical ultras to forgive the players’ numerous indiscretions on the field of play.

Facing up to a crucial few weeks in all competitions, Milan must fulfil tough fixtures against Verona, Cagliari, Torino, Napoli and Bologna before the might of joint La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid rolls into town at the Champions League last-16 stage. The big question for inexperienced coach Seedorf is, how in the world will he negotiate such tricky ties in tandem with a squad so lacking in belief? Will his pedigree and aura as a player inspire them to produce much greater performance levels than previously seen, or will the highly-decorated new boss get found out for his relative naivety as a coach?

It’s a tried-and-tested formula for Milan to give ‘green’ young coaches an opportunity to take on the top job, with a huge success rate on the back of such decisions. Promotion of former players and/or youth coaches has often heralded a new era of trophy-winning at the celebrated Italian club, with Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi two of the brightest examples for Seedorf to follow in terms of their approach to such new-found responsibility within the realms of the San Siro.

Seedorf was indeed a true leader in the centre of the park for Milan and that quality will have placed the two-time Italian champion firmly at the forefront of Silvio Berlusconi’s thinking when hunting for a new man to instigate the dawn of another glittering period of success for the Rossoneri. Also, he has played under many of the game’s most revered managers in his time including such greats as Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, so gleaning pearls of wisdom from such luminaries over the years will certainly assist Seedorf in his new career.

On landing at Linate airport, Clarence the coach inherited a side with some ability and in particular a forward line that is the envy of most Serie A sides; Balotelli, El Shaarawy, Robinho and Kaka make up a potent attacking unit. Also, new signing Keisuke Honda scored in the Coppa Italia tie last night in front of the onlooking Seedorf and will have a big part to play in any revival. That said, it is generally a set of footballers shorn of true heart and spirit, which will need to be nurtured and eventually rekindled if Milan are to do anything of note this campaign.

A trailblazer and evidently a very strong personality, the former midfield lynchpin has overcome many obstacles in his career throughout turbulent times with the national team and the switch from arch-rivals Inter to AC Milan, while suffering at the hands of despicable racism on many occasions during his playing days. Now, he returns to his spiritual home in the hope of turning around their fading fortunes, while carving out a niche for himself as a successful black coach working at the top of the European game and perhaps opening the door for several more aspiring coaches from various ethnic backgrounds to join him.

Should Seedorf manage the feat of restoring Milan to the top of the tree domestically, then all lingering doubts over his appointment will be banished in favour of praise for another masterstroke from the powers-that-be at AC Milan. Despite the apparent requirement for an older head to steady the ship, one cannot fully discount the likelihood of such a turnaround taking place under Seedorf’s rule.