Is Clarence Seedorf 'born ready' to lead Milan?

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

"I was born ready."

The phrase is so associated with Clarence Seedorf that he put it on his official website. The thing is it applies to so many steps in his career.

He was "born ready" in 1991 when, at the age of 15, he was profiled by Dutch television as the next big thing.

He was "born ready" a year later when he became the youngest player to represent Ajax, eclipsing some guy named Johan Cruyff.

He was "born ready" at 18 when he guided Louis van Gaal's young Ajax team to win the European Cup, beating Fabio Capello's Milan in the final. That same year, he made his first appearance for Holland and, naturally, scored on his debut.

He was "born ready" at 20 when he landed at Real Madrid and immediately persuaded Capello to hand over the keys to the midfield. He did, and the club won La Liga straight away, with a Champions League victory a year later.

He was "born ready" at 26 when, after two and a half lackluster years in the chaos of Inter Milan, he moved across town amid much skepticism and won over manager Carlo Ancelotti, persuading him to do something many thought could never work: play Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Manuel Rui Costa in the same midfield.

Well, it did. Milan won the Champions League. Over the next decade, Seedorf would establish himself as a Rossoneri icon, winning another Champions League and losing a third in the final thanks to Liverpool's unreal Istanbul comeback, plus another two Serie A crowns.

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty ImagesClarence Seedorf is an unlikely man to succeed at Milan, despite all the obvious factors that should count against him.

After that, it was no longer about being "born ready" on the pitch because he was a veteran. So Seedorf tried his hand at other pursuits, trying to figure out if he was "born ready" for those. He excelled as a pundit on television in a number of countries -- a truly global footballer, he speaks five languages fluently -- bankrolled a motorcycle racing team that competed in the 125cc world championships, opened a number of successful restaurants and led an ownership group that bought third-tier club Monza.

As it turned out, he wasn't quite "born ready" for all these endeavours. Some were successful; some were not. But if you're an intelligent, introspective person, often you learn more from your failures than from your successes.

It's inevitable to trot out the "born ready" meme now that, at 37 years old and with zero coaching experience, he has been appointed manager of Milan. The Monza experience is the closest to his new job and, in some ways, the most relevant to judging what might happen.

In that sense, it does not bode well.

Monza finished midtable in his first season. Then he had the ill-advised idea of forming a "technical committee" along with former Inter legend Giuseppe "Beppe" Bergomi to "advise" the manager. Sweeping changes were made. One season, Monza had five different coaches (unsurprisingly, they were relegated). At one point, Seedorf reportedly decided that every Monza side down to the youth team would play a utopian, Cruyff-inspired 3-4-3.

It all backfired -- badly. It's safe to say that when Seedorf exited the scene and the near-bankrupt club was sold in 2013, most Monza fans were delighted that he was gone.

That high-profile meltdown -- Monza is effectively a suburb of Milan, and his story was familiar to all -- is part of the reason why, at the end of last season, Milan's Ultras made it clear they did not want an inexperienced manager, be it Seedorf or anybody else new to management.

Some suggest Milan will be no different for Seedorf. But there's plenty reason to think otherwise.

Oliver Morin/Getty ImagesSeedorf could succeed because he knows and understands the people who will challenge him most: Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi.

For a start, running a football club is a full-time job. Seedorf was doing it at Monza while playing for Milan and pursuing his myriad interests. He went in with little knowledge of the third tier and probably underestimated the job.

Milan will be different. It will have to be. Coaching will absorb him full-time, and he knows the folks involved -- not just many of the players but owner Silvio Berlusconi, his daughter and co-chief executive Barbara and the other chief executive Adriano Galliani -- extremely well. He knows how to talk to them; he knows how to play them. Plus, as I said, really intelligent guys often learn more from their failures than from their successes. At Monza, Seedorf failed at a hobby, which doesn't mean he won't succeed at a full-time job.

Milan-Seedorf coverage:
- Report: Seedorf to coach Rossoneri
- Vickery: Opportunity knocks
- Paul: Milan leap into the unknown
- Video: Seedorf leaves Brazil a legend
- Watch: Tassotti backs Seedorf to succeed
- Seedorf: 'Special feeling' at Milan

Early indications are that he could be recalling former teammates Jaap Stam and Hernan Crespo to his staff. This would follow an obvious pattern: former Milan guys who are well-regarded, highly intelligent and adored by the media but have little coaching experience (though Stam has been an assistant at Ajax).

The exciting part is what he'll want to do on the pitch and what he'll be allowed to do.

Let's take the second one first. The simple fact is that whoever coaches Milan right now does so in a straitjacket. The club needs an overhaul because, in a Financial Fair Play world, it simply cannot compete on the same terms as before.

Furthermore, looking at this squad, it probably needs three-quarters of a new defense and half a new midfield. Seedorf will face the same issue Massimiliano Allegri did in terms of working with the club's recruitment in the sense that a sudden "brainwave" by the owner (bringing back Kaka, signing Ronaldinho or whatever) can turn whatever plans were in place by 180 degrees.

On top of that, he'll have to deal with murky lines of management. In theory, Galliani is the chief executive when it comes to technical matters while Barbara Berlusconi is in charge of everything else. In practice, when you have two bosses who sometimes move in contradictory ways, plus an uber-boss who ultimately pays the bills, those are very tricky waters to navigate.

The good news is that Seedorf, unlike Allegri, is a master diplomat when he wants to be. He knows he's more intelligent than 99.9 percent of the people he meets and is very good at figuring out what they want and how to accommodate them in a way that suits his own goals as well. It's not a coincidence that when he had his first rip-roaring bust-up with a manager -- none other than Guus Hiddink at Euro 1996 -- he stopped short of reaching the point where he had to be sent home (unlike Edgar Davids).

Marco Luzzani/Getty ImagesSeedorf's time at Milan was good as a player. Can he live up to expectations from the sideline?

Milan's reality is that, given the situation upstairs, a strong, experienced manager would struggle, particularly an outsider who doesn't know the ways of Galliani and the Berlusconis. That's why only two types of managers were ever going to be given the opportunity to work at Milan right now.

One is a "yes man" figure who would end up following contradictory instructions from his multiple bosses and, because he's a doormat, lose the respect of players and supporters.

The other is a guy savvy enough to make his bosses think he's agreeing with them while doing his own thing. And when he does something positive, he lets his bosses think that it was their idea and lets them take the credit. In other words, Seedorf. (Or possibly Ancelotti, but he's busy with bigger and better things.)

As for what he does on the pitch and what philosophy he engenders at Milan, it's anyone's guess. (Odds are it won't be the 3-4-3 we saw at Monza.) His football influences are so varied and his ability to absorb concepts and re-elaborate them are so great that it really is a blank slate. This is a man who excelled under managers as different as Ancelotti, Capello and Van Gaal and seemingly knows absolutely everyone in the game. (Remember the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game? It works as "Three Degrees of Clarence Seedorf.")

Beyond that, you're left with one of the cleverest men in the game right now. A guy driven by intellectual curiosity and a desire to do things his way -- whether it's setting up the motor racing team, writing for The New York Times or choosing to play in Brazil at the end of his career -- who also manages to be the ultimate insider, one of the few capable of appealing to both Barbara Berlusconi and Galliani. A man who has learned to control the narrative, something great politicians and public figures know how to do.

Were he someone else, Milan would not be successfully peddling the line that appointing Seedorf was akin to appointing Capello or Arrigo Sacchi -- two other Milan guys who were given the job despite a sparse résumé -- rather than the many other former stars who were given their debuts at the highest level and came up short.

Is he ready? Heck, like he says, he was born ready. If he fails, it won't be because he’s not ready. It will be because he's not a good coach, just as he wasn't a particularly good owner.

But as far as being prepared is concerned, that should not be in doubt.


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