In the October issue of Brazilian football magazine Placar, 28 prominent journalists were asked which player – of all those plying their trade in the Campeonato Brasileiro – they would bring to their team if they could.
One chose Alexandre Pato. One plumped for Andrés D’Alessandro. Two picked Zé Roberto; ditto Elias. Four went for Alex.
14 chose Clarence Seedorf.
“He brings something to a club as a whole, not just the team,” purred commentator Paulo Vinícius Coelho. Erich Beting, another member of the panel, was more explicit: “He is a leader and has a wealth of experience that no one else in Brazil can match.”
Such giddy plaudits have been de rigueur since the Dutchman stunned the world by joining Botafogo in 2012. But they ultimately proved insufficient to bind him to his new home. On Tuesday, Seedorf announced that he was hanging up his boots – six months before the end of his contract – in order to manage Milan.
Few have performed with such grace in Brazil over the last 18 months. With his crisp passing and lucid decision-making, Seedorf routinely towered above men half his age. Playing closer to the strikers than he did in his final years in Europe, he revelled in the space offered to him by opposition defences, scoring and laying on goals as Botafogo (the childhood club of his Brazilian wife, Luciana) qualified for the Copa Libertadores after years of underachievement.
Seedorf has also been a shining light of professionalism, taking his time in Brazil more seriously than anyone had the right to expect. His commitment to taking care of his body has reportedly rubbed off on other Botafogo players (“He asks questions about everything – food supplements, physio treatments. The youngsters look up to him”, club physiologist Altamiro Bottino told Placar), while much of his down time was spent coaching youth sides in Rio de Janeiro.
Yet his biggest legacy is likely to lie in the way he engaged with his surroundings on an intellectual level. Not content just to pick up his pay cheque at the end of each month, the 37-year-old has been both a measured advocate of the Brazilian game and a vocal critic of the zeal and disorganisation that often characterise it. It is surely no coincidence that his time in Brazil coincided with the emergence of the Bom Senso movement.
“Brazil welcomed me with open arms,” said Seedorf at an emotional final press conference. “I will never forget that.”
Brazil will never forget him either. If every star player who came or returned from Europe was similarly inspirational, Brazilian football would be in a far healthier state.
Three cheers for Amarildo
As a player, he earnt the nickname O Possesso (literally “The Possessed One”) from Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues. It was fitting, then, that former Seleção great Amarildo would be the man to interrupt the samba-and-smiles party that was the Ballon d’Or gala evening with a dose of hard truth.
“Football matches are won on the pitch,” said the 74-year-old. “Our fans need to be more disciplined. We should be worried about what is happening in our stadiums. This cannot happen during the World Cup.”
Judging by the reaction of host Ruud Gullit, who hurriedly moved the discussion on, this was not a FIFA-approved monologue. But then Amarildo, one of the stars of Brazil’s World Cup-winning side of 1962, never was one to stick to the script. Bravo.