Seedorf looking to turn Champions League tables
English clubs have ended AC Milan star Clarence Seedorf's dream of
a fifth Champions League triumph on his last three attempts but this
year the boot might just be on the other foot.
When European football resumes this week, it will do so with the
prospect of there being no clubs from these shores in the quarter-finals
of the continent's most prestigious club competition for the first time
since Blackburn's failure in the 1995-96 season, a statistic which is
more telling when you remember that we have had entered at least four
teams every year since 2002.
After the failure of both Manchester clubs to get beyond the group stage,
England's two survivors must put their stuttering domestic form behind
them as they face tricky Anglo-Italian tests for a place in the last
eight. Arsenal against Seedorf's AC Milan, and Chelsea against Napoli.
For the Rossoneri, the former is also a chance for revenge for their defeat - as holders - by the Gunners at this stage of the Champions League in 2008.
They have not been beyond the last 16 since, with their two subsequent campaigns being ended there by Manchester United in 2010 and Tottenham in 2011.
Seedorf told me that, this time, it will be different. He and his
team-mates are confident of progress, and see Wednesday's home leg as
The 35-year-old explained: "We need to avoid the same mistakes we
made last year against Spurs. A positive result in the first leg is
United and Tottenham have both triumphed there since but, four years
ago, Arsenal were the first English team to win at the San Siro, on a
night when Cesc Fabregas bossed the game and scored one of the late
goals that sent Arsene Wenger's men through.
Arsenal, who have lost several key personnel since, still face the
same accusations of being a one-man team but it is Robin van Persie, an
unused substitute in that tie, who is their talisman now.
Do the Gunners rely too heavily on the Dutch striker? Seedorf is a
huge fan of his compatriot, but sees Arsenal has having more strings to
their bow. "They are a strong all-round side and they always play good
football," he added.
"Van Persie is finally exploding and I am very happy for him, but we
know what we are going to have to deal with and we are ready. It is
going to be a tough game - Arsenal have always changed important players
a lot over the last six or seven years and have still managed to
perform well. They haven't won trophies but they are still a dangerous
Seedorf does not fear the Gunners, though. In fact, he is not afraid
of anyone: "I don't like to talk about fear in sport, in general," he
said. "I think you need to respect your opponent but if you prepare the
way you should so you can perform at your best then it is down to you.
While Arsenal are inconsistent, Chelsea are undoubtedly in
transition. Their owner Roman Abramovich can still fulfil his dream of
Champions League glory this season, but elimination this early would not
exactly help the cause of their young manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Seedorf, however, thinks Villas-Boas deserves time - however his team
fare in the last 16. "I have heard more than I have seen about his
work, but the trophies speak for themselves," he said.
"For sure he has talent. It's a project they are trying to build for
him, so let's give the man some time to do his job. I mean, he did good
work with Porto, now let's see what he can achieve with Chelsea."
Manchester City have already found out how dangerous Napoli are, with
the Italian side taking four points off them to finish above them in
Group A. But Seedorf says Roberto Mancini's men should not be
disheartened by their first Champions League experience, and thinks
glory is on the horizon.
"They had a very tough group, and they need to continue building,"
said Seedorf, who revealed City and Chelsea have both shown interest in
signing him in the last couple of years.
"Winning the Premier League, if City do it, would be a very good
first step to increasing the confidence and attaining the specific
mentality of a winning team to approach certain games in the Champions
League with a different mental state.
"City, within three years, will be on the podium at the end. I do think they are going in the right direction."
For now, though, there is only one team to beat. As far as Seedorf is
concerned, the reigning champions, Barcelona, are still "the best team
in the world".
Are Milan equipped to stop Barca from defending their crown? They
pushed Pep Guardiola's hard in two pulsating group encounters, losing 3-2 at the San Siro then drawing 2-2 at the Nou Camp, and Seedorf believes they are not unstoppable.
"Those matches gave us lots of confidence," he said. "We are still
looking at what we need to do to be at Barca's level at the moment but,
especially in the second game, we demonstrated we are very close."
Inter and Napoli are clearly also realistic contenders, but the
paradox for Italian football right now is that, in the same year they
have more teams in the last 16 of the Champions League than any other
nation, they have also fallen behind Germany in Uefa's coefficient rankings, and will lose a CL berth next season.
England are still top of the coefficient, which is decided over the
previous five seasons and also reflects Europa League results. One bad
year is not a disaster for the Premier League on that front.
So should we be too worried if Arsenal and Chelsea both fail to reach
the last eight? Seedorf laughs. "No, absolutely not. If English clubs
panic at this then Italian clubs would be dead by now!
"It's a cycle, it's a sport. Sometimes, someone else just performs
better than you. English clubs cannot expect to dominate all the time -
it would be quite boring, and exactly what we don't want to see in
Chris Bevan's Blog, BBC Sport