At the start of this season, Clarence Seedorf could have been forgiven for having a few doubts about his future at Milan. The arrival of Ronaldinho seemed to suggest that the 32-year old Dutch star would be out in the cold, with the potential of Kaka, Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho combining to make one of the most fearsome attacking forces in world football.
Of course, it hasn’t turned out that way. Even the introduction of David Beckham into the midfield mix hasn’t stopped the Surinamese-born midfielder imposing himself on the Rossoneri’s starting eleven, keeping out Ronnie in the process. The weighty forward’s indifferent start to life in Milan may have helped Seedorf’s first team opportunities at Milan but in the truth, the ex-Real Madrid and Inter player has faced similar challenges in the past, and often emerged the winner.
Milan Tactician Carlo Ancelotti has been keen to establish a balanced midfield for the title assault, combining the flair of Pato and Kaka in attack with the nous and discipline of Andrea Pirlo, Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso (later Beckham) and Massimo Ambrosini. The Dutchman’s form this season would certainly indicate that there are a few more years left for him in Milan’s midfield just yet. He has played over 20 games for the Rossoneri this season, scoring 3 goals.
He may not be at the level of years gone by (his influence in the Milan side has diminished from his starring role in the 2007 Champions League winning-campaign) but he remains a versatile – if understated – part of the team.
Alongside the fresh younger legs of Kaka and Pato, Seedorf has quietly gone about his business. The tricks, skills and 45-yard wonder goals may have gone but it would be wrong to say the Dutchman brings less to the table. He remains an intelligent schemer with strong stamina and a football-brain that can be bettered by few. The question now for the midfielder is what his future in football holds. His clever, intelligent probing behind the striker has impressed since his arrival from fierce rivals Inter in 2002, but his importance to the Italian giants could change if the much-maligned Ronaldinho finds form or, worse still, keen admirer Ancelotti is finally tempted by Roma or Chelsea in the summer.
The mercurial Brazilian may be an infuriating player but there can be no disguising the glimpses of quality which could see him fast-tracked to the first team, possibly at the expense of Seedorf. UEFA Cup goals are one thing, but Ronaldinho’s form has showed signs of improvement. The Rossoneri may have lost 2-1 to Inter in the Milan derby, but Dinho was a danger throughout, setting up Pato’s goal with a wonderful defence-splitting pass, and showing glimpses of the skill that once made him the world’s most celebrated player. The Milan coaching staff will certainly be keen to get the best out Ronaldinho, when at 28-years-old and costing £21m, the Italian club will be aware that they possess a genuine world-class talent who should be in the prime of his career.
Should the Milan Coach succeed with the Brazilian, the temptation will be to play him alongside Kaka and behind Pato in his 4-3-2-1 formation. That could force Milan’s No.10 onto the sidelines, although signs so far this season would suggest Ancelotti believes Seedorf gives the San Siro side more balance and defensive responsibility in the midfield than when the Brazilian is in the side.
Seedorf has matured into a player aware that he is no longer the team star but a team player. There are still problems at international level however, as proved by the star’s decision to opt-out of Euro 2008 over disagreements with Marco van Basten, and it remains to be seen if he will play for his country again.
The likelihood is that Seedorf’s versatility will see him as part of Milan’s attacking midfield for a few years to come, especially with Milan’s fame for getting the best out of players well into their 30s and 40s. What role Seedorf plays and whether he likes it or not is another matter. Should Seedorf be ousted to a Ronaldinho resurgence or an Ancelotti abscondence, the Dutchman may be forced to re-evaluate his options. Recent stories from Milan suggest that Ancelotti may be looking for pastures new come the summer and any move there could see the new man at Milan ringing the changes for a new era. New players and a new formation could mean a new club for Seedorf. Any move would be reliant on a realistic valuation from Milan, with his contract with two years to run, yet Seedorf himself has flirted with the idea of interest from England, and could also attract interest from Spain and Milan’s rivals in Italy.
An alternative option would be a tweaking of his role at Milan. He may be 32 but the ex-Holland international is in fine condition with great energy in attack, and when needed, tracking back. The formation that Milan plays currently allows for three deeper lying midfielders to pull the strings of Ancelotti’s side while protecting the defence.
When fit, Pirlo and Gattuso may occupy two of the three positions, but the third position is potentially still up for grabs. Ambrosini has been playing there to plausible effect and Beckham’s recent arrival has seen him become a real danger from the right hand-side. However, with Beckham’s proposed transfer on the verge of collapse and with young guns like Mathieu Flamini failing to impress, the Dutchman has the game to drop deeper in the Milan midfield to compete with the likes Ambrosini and Emerson.
At the moment Seedorf appears to be happy at the San Siro and the three-time Champions League winner could yet land more silverware if Milan live up to expectations in the UEFA Cup. The end of the season is likely to determine the future of Seedorf. Should Milan qualify for the Champions League and they retain the services of their Coach, any move would seem unlikely. If, however, they lose Ancelotti and Ronaldinho takes Seedorf’s place in the team, the Dutch maestro may start to cast eyes elsewhere.