Q.

Clarence, I often wonder if professional football players such as your self get enough rest. I also wonder if some clubs are better than others in taking care of their players not just physically but mentally since many players are away from their family and country (their support) and face high stakes and stress in almost every game. There is a gigantic demand for good footballers and we just don’t appear to get enough of the game. What is your perspective in regards to this issue? – Francisco, Los Angeles

A.

I don’t think players get enough rest. I think that’s a very good observation. We mentioned it more than once here that there are way too many matches played, and this is something we have to deal with. You have to take care of yourself and make sure you get your rest and be very disciplined in taking care of your body and mind.

On the mental side, it’s also clear that you have to do this as a professional player. The fact that the mental impact on our lives is a heavy impact is very true. I think there’s not been enough done in football to add mental training, mental coaches, because there is a lot of stress and not everybody is coping with it in the best way. I think it would be value added.

Some teams are trying it. A lot of teams aren’t really applying it; they don’t have a sports psychologist or a mental coach doing his thing.

My own company that I started four years ago, ON International, was started because of the lack of support I see for the players and around the players. It was important to bring this to the sport management and the elite talent management, this type of support. In football ad sports consultancy in general. That’s what we’ve tried to do for three or four years.

It’s a long education process. As mentioned by the reader, it is obvious, for those who really are interested in the human being behind the athlete that there is a lot to do to give support off the pitch to help them grow in all facets — mental, communication, strategic career thinking and other things from that point of view.

Q.

Mr. Seedorf, first of all let me say that I’m a huge fan of you and of the Rossoneri and I can’t wait for the Derby on Sunday. I have been so impressed with the turnaround you guys have had from the beginning of the season to now. What do you think has been the main reason for this radical improvement? Thanks for your time and best of luck in the Derby! – Alex S., Dublin, Ohio

A.

Thanks for the question. It is quite simple: it is very hard work. It takes determination and belief in our own capabilities and the will to build something. We knew that we had to rebuild a new identity for this team at the beginning of the season. Even if the results were not working at first, we never gave up.

It took a couple of months. But hard work in the end pays off.

I often say that, in the end, it’s not how much quality you have on the team but how much you have a team to be quality. Milan has shown that in past years and this year is another example.
And team spirit of course is a big part of it. Trying to unify everybody during the bad moments has been one of the most important issues that this team has been able to do. Be consistent in your work and consistent in your belief and everything will be just fine.

Q.

Mr. Seedorf, we’re currently in another transfer window in Europe and virtually nothing is happening. Is it possible that one sport is coming into line with current harsh economic realities? (Something pro sports almost never do.)

Is it possible that the huge sums paid by Real Madrid for transfers last summer and the billion-dollar plus combined debts of Man United and Liverpool might actually change or radically slow transfers or inflated prices for a few years? – A.S. Prisant; Barcelona, Spain

A.

We have a very sharp question here and he is actually giving us the answers also. It is all true. But in the end, I think it will have an effect on the business and hopefully in the positive way.

I hope the crisis will be felt and that people will start building a more sustainable business environment for all. It’s going to happen sooner or later. Of course, you have very rich clubs, but in football we need more than two competitive teams. In the end, the players are not all going to be in the same team and not all the best players are going to play for one or two of the best teams.

I think the transfer sums will be more aligned with the real value of the player, thinking about the return on investment for the club. Thinking more from a business perspective and not just an emotional perspective, which has been the case in the past and has caused all the debt because of a lack of planning and a lack of real business skills. Too much emotion. That’s going to change for sure.

The crisis in the world happened for the same type of reasons and we can notice it already in football. In AC Milan, we can see: they changed strategy and are not spending all the money like they did a couples years ago. Madrid did it this year still, as we mentioned a couple of months ago, and it’s not really paying off for them this year yet. Spending money is not a guarantee of success. It’s how you spend it.

Q.

Mr Seedorf, how does run up to the World Cup affect players preparations while playing for their clubs? I can imagine more concern over injury while also pressure to perform and be fit. Can you share how you see the pending World Cup playing into players’ minds as they compete in crucial league and tournament games? Thank you — Brian, Seattle, Wash.

A.

I actually don’t think there is any time to think too much about the World Cup. Most of the players who go to World Cup from the big teams have a full schedule. And the best way to have a chance to play for your country is to play well with your club team. The focus has to be the club.

The best way to not inure yourself is to focus on your daily work, training and working hard. Any distraction will increase the possibility of an injury. I’ve never seen players really that worried about the World Cup until it really starts.

Coaches select players who are playing well for their clubs. It’s a positive thing for a lot of them because maybe it provides extra motivation. Look even at Ronaldinho this season — he is very focused. Maybe he will have extra motivation with the World Cup coming. Maybe it’s one of the things that is pushing him a little bit farther this year. So that’s a positive thing.

Q.

Seedorf, why are you not part of the Dutch national Team? You clearly have the talent. I think you would be great, because of your experience, to help the Dutch young team in the World Cup? – Luis, Sacremento, Calif.

A.

Well I wish you were the coach of the Dutch team.

I think the coach has other opinions and I respect that. I know my value. And you can’t have everything in life, as they say. I’m going to be just fine and I will enjoy the World Cup, watching, even if my heart will be crying.

I have plenty to do with my foundation and I’ll be there, working on some TV and stuff. There’s a lot going on with my foundation during the World Cup and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

We have to try to find the positive thing in everything. I wish the Dutch the best and there are a lot of guys that I follow with great attention. So I would really like them to do well.

Q.

Mr. Seedorf, as a top-class player in Europe, do you ever see yourself coming to America to play? How long do you think it will take for U.S. professional soccer to come near the level of Italy’s? Thank you. – Special K, New York, N.Y.

A.

I always say, why not? I think the United States brings a lot of opportunities. I think it is a very interesting country where I have a lot of connections and friends. I definitely don’t exclude any experience in the U.S. For now, I’m here in Milan and I’m happy here and I think I have a job to finish here.

People have talked a lot in the United States about the growth of the game. I think it just depends on themselves. I think the United States is ready whenever they like it to be ready. It’s a question of whether they want it to grow or not. Once they decide for the sport to grow, the whole world can learn how to do marketing and sports management from the Americans.

It has always been a question mark for me. But thanks to my connections, I have been informing myself about the situation there and the business around it and thinking about the game and about the youth development and I have a clearer view and that’s why I said what I said.

Q.

Hi Clarence, Spain’s team seems unbelievable in every position, even the subs would probably walk into many national first teams. Why do you think that they have so many quality players? The Netherlands used to be the production line of talent. Seriously, I think all of the major countries in Europe have a National Football Centre, but the talent that Del Bosque has at his disposal is frightening. Can you shed any light on this? – George Cross, NYC

A.

This is a thing of generations. The Barcelona team at the moment is surging. With some of the Madrid players and Valencia players – they are the great. The Spanish generation, which is fantastic, is now what it was like with Ajax and the Dutch team when I came up and Italy with Maldini.

I think England has a fantastic generation right now too with John Terry and Frank Lampard from Chelsea. And the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard. Of course, Wayne Rooney too.
But Spain, at the moment, found after years a fantastic and talented group.

Q.

Clarence, before Togo played in the African Cup, their bus was shot at by multiple gunmen. What was or is your reaction to that and is this unsafe when the World Cup is played in South Africa? — Kyle Baker, Unionville, Conn.

A.

I was really sad of course, also because I know some of the players, like Adebayor. I was quite worried. I was quite worried about the other teams too because it wasn’t clear from the beginning why it happened. After more information came out, it seemed it was more a mistake in organization than anything else. It was a sad moment: bad publicity for football and bad publicity for Africa.

But I have to say that in South Africa, hosting previous events, they have never had any problems whatsoever. Their security system is working just fine and they have hosted a lot of very important events. They’ve had great training and I am confident it will be a great event in South Africa.
And I think they have learned from this moment. One thing we all learned was that the world needs peace. Even with so many people suffering, it is clear that violence doesn’t get you anywhere.

There is an opportunity in South Africa. We have a big responsibility of leaving something behind. The people of South Africa and the people of the continent have to be able to say during and after the World Cup that this was a fantastic experience and that they left something behind for us: hopes, dreams and also projects. I’m confident this is going to happen because everyone knows the importance of this World Cup.

Q.

Back to Europe and the here and now: A.C. Milan will play Manchester United in the Champions League. Both are wealthy teams, with political intrigue at the top of the club. How do the events of the boardroom affect players on the field? Do mounting debts or political scandals of the owners ever affect the footballers on the pitch?

A.

Well, not always, but a lot of times.

They say in Italian that the fish stinks from the head. I don’t know what the English version would be, but it means if the boss and the management are struggling, it will have an effect on the team long term. It doesn’t have to be like that. One thing is the dressing room, one is the club, but it is all connected.

That’s one thing that happened with A.C. Milan in the beginning of this season. There were some conflicts and there wasn’t a clear vision. When they put it together and had some clarity, there was an energy change. It was very important that the head of the team and president and the managers and the owners are positive and try to keep eventual problems or conflicts away form the players.

I think Liverpool is quite a good example on how not to do it. Everybody is talking about the issues with the club and I don’ think that helps the payers a lot. It has to do with the whole environment of the club.

Players are people, like any employees, thinking about the future and if there are too many worries, you risk performance.

Q.

Several readers asked you to predict who will win the World Cup. You’ve said before the African teams will play as if they have wings — especially Ivory Coast and Ghana. But which individual players — especially the young players — do you see making a breakout for the World Cup?

A.

That’s very hard to say. I don’t expect a lot of young players to excel. There will always be some, but I expect great things from the established players, especially the Africans.

Somebody like Drogba and Essien and Eto’o. These are guys that I expect special things from. And then we have of course our Spanish guys. The Brazilian team. Then we have the French team. One guy, if he is going, Gourcuff, he could be one of the younger players who can do well. But he is one of the only ones I know.

I expect a lot from the African guys. I think that it is a big moment for them and hopefully they will be capable of dealing with the pressure. It’s not like playing in the league championship final; it’s more than that for them.

I had a chat with Drogba about the situation in Africa after the Togo situation and the players feel it. They are very much committed to the continent and to do a great performance during the World Cup. I expect from them to do something because this is the once in a lifetime occasion for them and to play on their own continent.