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Nov 14, 2006

Clarence in from the cold

Of a set of meaningless friendlies this week the Holland v England match might well be interesting now that Marco van Basten has added spice to the evening with his selection of Clarence Seedorf.

It is the first time he has selected the three-time Champions League winner of AC Milan after almost 27 months in charge.

'He had his chances in the past', 'rather have top players than stars in the squad' and 'at the moment Nicky Hofs is doing better than Seedorf in midfield' are some of the quotes with which Van Basten dismissed the former Ajax player.

And when Seedorf started a buzz in the media about getting back in the squad, the coach reacted sharply last Friday how he would never pick a player for his charms or interesting quotes. But on Sunday Wesley Sneidjer had to withdraw from the squad injured and subsequently a phone went off at Seedorf's Italian mansion.

Although asked at the eleventh hour and just to fill up the numbers, he was happy to come.

From being the national scapegoat around the turn of the century and booed Seedorf returns in the Amsterdam Arena almost as the new Messiah.

Thanks to the ridiculing of Seedorf by Van Basten, the disappointing World Cup campaign and the recent qualifiers, the coach has created a martyr.

In his Zen-like interviews Seedorf comments on the coach's disregard towards him were always polite and patient, saying how he respected Van Basten in making his own choices and how big a player he was. In a recent poll almost 75% wanted to see Seedorf back in the squad.

Two years ago the same percentage and even more were quite happy to see the back of his alleged movie star behaviour and his troublesome acts on the pitch.

Although he has 77 caps, Seedorf has never really impressed in the Dutch team. He became a scapegoat when he turned away the designated penalty takers in a qualifier in Turkey, then missed from the spot.

In a friendly against the United States in 2004 he came on as a sub for Edgar Davids on the right in the midfield.

Within a minute he had directed Rafael van der Vaart to that position and started playing on the left himself, thereby shunning the instructions of his coach Dick Advocaat, who was too startled to react.

However, that was 2004. Holland now warmly welcomes lost son Clarence. But will he play? Van Basten can leave Seedorf on the bench until the 80th minute to replace Evander Sno (Celtic) or Stijn Schaars (AZ) and humiliate him even more, but the mental state of the Milan star is such that he could very well perform the most majestic substitution in the history of world football and milk the standing ovation with an embarrassed smile.

As he goes to take a corner in the 85th minute he can raise his hand slightly to acknowledge the fifty thousand voices that accompany him to the flag.

Afterwards he might comment on camera how the match did not ask for an early substitution and how the coach has made the right decision. And if we'd like it to reach top drama, all Soccernet readers should pray that Seedorf is brought down in the box. Will he take the penalty himself or graciously hand the ball over to Denny Landzaat? To reach a similar pinnacle Denny should return with a gesture of 'you take it'.

It now seems likely that Seedorf will even be in the starting eleven. This puts the pressure back on him. Doing well is not entirely up to the player himself. He is always dependent on the form of his colleagues.

In the Arena he is surrounded by Schaars, Landzaat and Van der Vaart, entirely different players than the likes of Pirlo, Gattuso or Nesta. And Dirk Kuyt is no Alberto Gilardino.

Can they keep the English midfield of Gerrard, Lampard and Joe Cole at bay? A defeat will kill off most of Seedorf's ambition to return to the international tournaments. As an cautious exit-strategy he has already made known his interest in participating at the Olympic Games. In football, of course.

The Dutch U-21'a are on the brink of qualifying for Beijing 2008 and there could be a couple of tickets for older players. Ruud van Nistelrooy is interested too.

Without the Seedorf saga the match between the two countries would have been a bland affair for Dutch fans. England are inundated with withdrawals, while the Dutch coach has stopped selecting the best players.

Interestingly the home team has suffered just one defeat in nine against the English in almost 25 years. What a difference a century makes in football.

Until the great World Cup performances of the Seventies one victory over England in 1913 was the pinnacle of the Dutch national football.

After the final whistle blew over the dunes around the Houtrust ground in Scheveningen, football fans went dancing on to the streets of The Hague. Two goals by striker Huug de Groot sent the representatives of Albion back to their clubs in Ilford, Stockton-on-Tees and Dulwich Hamlet.

At Chelsea there may have been a few giggles when captain Vivian Woodward and keeper Ronald Brebner revealed the result.

Their Stamford Bridge colleagues beat Liverpool at Anfield on the same day. So who did the Dutch beat exactly? It was just a touring team and a hobby of Woodward, a famous amateur league player. He had selected some of the better amateurs in the professional league and probably some other friends to play international games on the continent.

But the Dutch did not mind. As long as it was labelled 'England', it was good enough for them.

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