Clarence Seedorf will need to tap all the experience he gained as the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs if his AC Milan side are to get past Atletico Madrid and into the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament.
Milan host the high-riding Spanish club in their last-16, first leg today, when Seedorf will make his coaching debut in Europe’s elite club competition after taking over from Massimiliano Allegri, who was sacked last month.
The 37-year-old former Netherlands midfielder claimed the Champions League once with Ajax and once with Real Madrid, before winning two more continental titles over a decade playing at Milan.
However, the seven-time European champions have fallen on hard times and sit ninth in Serie A — 31 points behind leaders Juventus — and Seedorf has taken on the task of lifting them out of their slump and reviving past glories.
“The match against Atletico will be a great chance to take a big step forward,” Seedorf said after Milan won 1-0 at home to Bologna on Friday. “We’ll play our game as Milan always have something extra in the Champions League. I’m confident that the stadium will be full as it was in the old days with a great atmosphere. The fans and the stadium will give the players what they need.”
Seedorf will be going head-to-head with a man he knows well from his playing days: Atletico coach Diego Simeone. The Argentine had stints at Italian clubs, including Inter and SS Lazio, as well as at Atletico and fellow La Liga side Sevilla.
Simeone, 43, has transformed the Madrid club into genuine contenders in Spain and Europe since taking over at the end of 2011, with los Colchoneros now joint top of La Liga with heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Atletico were one of only three teams undefeated in the Champions League group stage, winning five and drawing one, and are unbeaten in their past four away games in Europe.
“Atletico seem like an Italian or Argentine team since Simeone arrived, they are extremely tough,” Demetrio Albertini, a former Milan and Italy midfielder, said in an interview with Spanish sports daily As published on Monday.
“Atletico have an advantage, they are the favorites, as their position in the [Spanish] league suggests, but let’s not forget one thing: The Champions League is Milan’s home. They have won seven European titles and the history is there,” Albertini added.
Despite their stellar performance this season, Atletico have stumbled in recent weeks, suffering a surprise defeat at UD Almeria in La Liga and being eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Real.
However, they returned to winning ways at the weekend with a 3-0 Liga win at home to Real Valladolid.