The UEFA Champions League has created many legends since the European Cup was rebranded in 1992, but perhaps none more so than Clarence Seedorf.
The Dutch midfielder is often described as the most successful player in the competition's history, having won the trophy four times. He remains the only player ever to win it with three different teams: Ajax in 1995, Real Madrid in 1998 and Milan in 2003 and 2007.
Seedorf's first taste of European success came when he was merely 18 years old, just a few years out of Ajax's youth set-up and playing alongside Dutch luminaries-in-the-making including Marc Overmars, Frank Rijkaard, Patrick Kluivert, the De Boer twins, Edgar Davids and Danny Blind. In that season, the Amsterdammers also won the Eredivisie undefeated with a plus-36 goal differential.
The lauded midfielder concluded his career with Botafogo in 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, scoring his last career goal at the Maracana. Seedorf spoke with Bleacher Report a few yards away from that Maracana goalmouth at a Champions League event organised by Heineken, and the conversation started discussing a milestone win from 20 years ago...
Bleacher Report: You first won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 as a teenager. Can you describe the feeling of having that kind of success at such a young age?
Clarence Seedorf: Every time you win a cup it’s special, but it’s a dream come true when it happens at a club where you started in the youth set-up, surrounded by friends who formed an incredible generation of players. And the party afterward was incredible!
B/R: Really? What happened?
CS: We basically had a week of partying every day. It had been almost 25 years since Ajax had won the European Cup, so it was a pretty special occasion!
B/R: What was it like working under Louis Van Gaal at that time?
CS: [Pauses] You definitely notice when you work with him. You remember him. Back then, it was the right combination of players and coach—everything clicked into place. He has a very particular philosophy, and he’s a great, great manager.
B/R: People say that LVG looks after his players and cares that they are content in their personal lives. Is that true?
CS: I don’t know who told you that and it’s a long time since I worked with him, but he was the one who brought me in as a 16-year-old—so I will always be thankful for his belief in me. We had a very good relationship. He definitely cares about his players, but most coaches do. And so they should!
B/R: With Atletico Madrid facing Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, it would be remiss not to talk about your incredible goal in the Madrid derby in 1997.
CS: Yes, I will never forget it. The day before the game, my daughter was born, so I went off to Holland without really telling anybody and came back the day of the match. I played and scored [B/R: Note the baby-rocking celebration in the video clip above], and apparently the goal was the first from outside the box in that La Liga season—so a wine company gave me a prize of 250 bottles of red wine! I don’t drink, but I made a lot of people happy with that wine!
B/R: What was the standout Champions League moment in your career?
CS: I can’t just pick one. I played over 130 matches, including four finals, so there have been many great moments. Every season has its story, but if I have to pick one I always go back to the first Champions League win or the first match at professional level or the first goal. Because that’s where it all began.
B/R: You won the Champions League four times. Is it possible to get used to winning it?
CS: You certainly get used to winning in general. Winning the Champions League is a very particular feeling, but it's really the journey that makes it special. Every journey that brings you toward a win is important, and it's particularly worthwhile in seasons like 2002-03, when there were two group stages. Back then it took 17 games to win it, so it was pretty tough.
B/R spoke with Clarence Seedorf at Heineken’s UEFA Champions League #ChampionTheMatch event. Follow #ChampionTheMatch with @Heineken on Twitter and Facebook during every UEFA Champions League match week. Join Heineken for Barcelona vs. PSG and #ChampionTheMatch with Geremi Njitap.