Ciao, Seedorf

Saying goodbye to ten years of your life cannot be easy, which is why I guess Clarence Seedorf took an extra five weeks to make up his mind. Although he initially announced just before the last game of the season that he would be leaving Milan, yesterday, he took the opportunity in a press conference to say that he had finally decided for sure to move on. While Rino and the others saw the need for the club to reduce its wage bill as well as the need for an infusion of younger players, Seedorf toyed with the temptation of staying and playing another year at the highest level, maybe wanting the chance at one more league title or Champion’s League trophy. He said in the press conference that he had thought of leaving two years ago, but as of just a few days ago, he realized it was finally time to go. And like his earlier indecision, it is with mixed emotions that we say goodbye to the one Italians call “Willy Wonka.”

The question is how will he be remembered? He spent ten trophy-laden years at the club, and he wore the number 10 with pride. And this was after he had won the Champions League with both Ajax and Real Madrid, accomplishments most players would be thrilled to rest their laurels on. With 300 Serie A appearances for Milan, he was a constant in the midfield. But not just a constant. He was a champion, a strong, skilled player who could be counted on to provide the important cross or score the winning goal. He was so skilled that when the opponent’s defense left only the tiniest space open, he could find it and get the ball through to someone like Pippo. I read somewhere this week that his first assist and last assist for Milan were both to Pippo, and it shows what an important relationship they had for ten years both in the league and in Europe.

His trophy haul at Milan alone consisted of a Coppa Italia, two Supercoppa trophies, two Scudetti, two UEFA Super Cup Trophies, two Champions League trophies, and a FIFA Club World Cup trophy. Forget the Golden Ticket, the man was just pure gold. He wasn’t necessarily a standout for the Ballon d’Or, like a superstar who was always visible on the pitch. Rather, he was a part of a very special elite group of team players, and was the kind of player you truly missed when he was not on the pitch. He also earned 87 caps for the Netherlands over his career, and participated in 3 Euros tournaments for them: 1996, 2000, and 2004. He also played on the National Team in the 1998 World Cup.

Rui Costa, Seedorf, Pirlo, and Ambrosini... the Champions of Champions

But Seedorf was more than just that clutch player with the quality to win, especially in the big games. He has long had the reputation of being a classy ambassador for the club, always happy to give an interview and saying all of the right things. He has more recently entered the realm of broadcasting, and has been part of the coverage for the 2010 World Cup as well as more recently the Euros for British television. But he is also involved with many charity projects, including his own, the Champions for Children foundation in his home of Suriname. He was also honored in 2009 as the Nelson Mendela Foundation’s Legacy Champion, one of a very choice few people who are recognized for their philanthropy and charged with maintaining Nelson Mendela’s legacy.

So why the mixed emotions, then? Most Milan fans could tell you that over the past few years, there has been a severe dropoff in the quality of his play. Between his pace and his lessening ability to hold the ball as well as a decrease in his accuracy, particularly when shooting. Some fans began to refer to him as “Slowdorf,” and cursed every lineup that came out with his name on it. But that is normal that a 36 year-old would not be able to do the same things that a 26 year-old could, like when he first came to Milan. And to be fair, he didn’t always have the same caliber of teammates to pass to as he used to, either. Not that it was always bad, he made some huge contributions both seasons that were crucial, even if they got lost in the mundane “No, why did he give the ball away again?” moments.

Okay, ALMOST always classy...

But for me, I saw a slow change in his character, or maybe an increase of a tiny flaw that was already there. He had always been a mentor to the younger players, many claiming he was like a father to them. But now, he would openly offer uninvited “constructive criticism” of his teammates to the media in his postgame press conferences instead. He started talking more about a decrease in playing time, even though he was getting a lot more starts than talented younger players or certainly other Senatori. At one point this season, he openly stated that he felt he should start every single match. And then there was the tantrum after being subbed off vs. Bologna in April, where he stormed off the pitch like a child, something most clubs will fine or otherwise sanction a player for. In essence, more Veruca Salt and less Charlie.

It was clear to me at this point that his ego had superseded his talents, even if I had suspected this for a long time. That while he claimed to do everything for the team, he was no longer able to see the team for his own desires. Maybe it was because he had played those three years at Inter. We saw recently that even the evergreen of class Pirlo still had a bit of Interista in him with his press conferences this year. But whatever the case, he had gone from a respected leader and occasional captain of the team to more of a cancer, pressuring Allegri to play him more and more, and dividing fans who had worshipped his sublime skills these past ten years.

You can take the player out of Inter, but you can't take the Inter out of the player?

I think a majority of fans are relieved that he has finally chosen to move on. I for one want to remember the eight or so amazing years where “il Professore” was unquestionably classy, always reliable, a thrill to watch, and a champion in every sense of the word for our club. Not just because of the trophies, although he certainly did more than his fair share to win those. But because I want to remember him before those times when my heart sank seeing his name in the lineup (even for the times he proved my heart wrong these past few years.) I want to remember those times I panicked when I didn’t see his name in the lineup, knowing that we were missing a champion’s champion, a man who could change any game. And especially a man who would be revered off the pitch, too. As it sometimes is with family, I think I will appreciate him more now that he’s gone. And every game next year when I am sure I will wish for the Seedorf of say... 2007. That’s how I want to remember him. Ciao e grazie, Clarence.

This post inspired by the music of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

Ciao, Seedorf Ciao, Seedorf Reviewed by Elaine on 1:10 AM Rating: 5
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