Loved, Detested, Respected, Rejected – the paradox of Clarence Seedorf

The Seedorf-paradox is one of the most intriguing cases of a love-hate relationship displayed within Dutch football. It marks the player’s international career, throughout which he was never a highly appreciated figure despite his international success. No matter how many trophies he won, and how he was regarded abroad, he never became an untouchable in Oranje. Attitude, managerial choices, bad luck, all played its part. On the 14th of January 2014, Seedorf announced his retirement as a player, at the age of 37, and his appointment as Milan manager. The end of 22 years as an active professional was finally there, far later than many had expected. His switch to the coaching business came far sooner than most predicted though, and not many would have expected the Paramaribo-born veteran to make his managerial debut at AC Milan.

But Seedorf has always been the odd one out. The exception to the rule. When he was just 16 he already displayed the confidence of a veteran in front of the cameras following his Ajax debut. Smart, eloquent, snappy. Many were actually offended by his presentation, mistook it all for arrogance and soon he was ridiculed by Dutch audiences. The image of that confident young man, called arrogant by many, stuck with him for his entire career. When he made his step abroad, after having won all he could possibly win with Ajax, people regarded him a mercenary and traitor, leaving the Amsterdam giants for some lowly club in Italy for free. Yet Seedorf kept his cool, responded calmly and went on to work his way up to Real Madrid, playing with the likes of Roberto Carlos, Hierro, Raúl, Redondo, Suker, Mijatovic, Sanchis and Guti amongst others. He was appreciated a bit again, called up to the national team more frequently and made a name for himself.

Then Euro 1996 came, a tournament that would forever tarnish Seedorf in his home nation. Under Guus Hiddink, the Dutch squad played decent football in England and eventually finished in the quarter finals, losing out to France on penalties. The Dutch participation in the competition was, however, largely overshadowed by matters that happened within the dressing room, the so-called racial divide between Kluivert, Davids, Seedorf, Reiziger, Bogarde and the rest of the squad. Angered by differences in salary towards their Ajax compatriots, who largely formed the national team, the boys with Caribbean and Surinamese roots clotted together and formed their legendary cabal. After that, a misplaced post-game comment from Davids about Blind and Hiddink and a picture during dinner unleashed a storm in the Dutch media, all reporting of the supposed racial divide between the cabal and the others. Seedorf was seen as one of the main antagonists in this taking place and, unjustly, singled out by many as the one who made it happen. On top of that, it was he who missed the decisive penalty kick in the shoot-out against France, which gave the Dutch even more reason to spew their anger on the talented midfielder. A rift was created between Seedorf and Dutch football fans, a rift that would never close, seemingly.

Despite his enormous success with Milan, he never got the recognition he deserved. Rejected, even detested by the Dutch national team, he spent his years in Milan, winning trophies and gaining the plaudits by people all around the world. Eventually, Van Basten took up the glove and re-called Seedorf to Oranje, mainly using him as a substitute. Unsatisfied with his new role, he openly criticised the former striker, which led to a serious conflict between the two. After the falling out, Seedorf announced he’d not take part in Euro 2008. When Seedorf made his move to Botafogo, little to no attention was paid to it. Most deemed it his final destination, trying to earn a quick buck in an upcoming market, much like the Dutch stars of old departing for the NASL in the 80’s. But Seedorf did something remarkable yet again. He changed Botafogo, made the club more professional and astute, just with his presence, as well as guiding the club to respectable league positions. And now he is the first Dutchman to take charge of AC Milan, where many had expected Marco van Basten to get a punt at the job.

Many Dutch pundits were quick to question this decision, pointing towards his lack of experience. Others jumped the gun, hailing Seedorf and suddenly appreciating his presence in Dutch football. Fact of the matter is Milan made their choice. Seedorf certainly has the character to be a great manager, the question will just be if he’s the right man for Milan at this point in time. A question only time can answer us. Still, it is odd to see people react the way they do towards his appointment. He’s truly Dutch football’s biggest paradox personified. Loved, detested, respected and rejected all at the same time.

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