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May 20, 2008

Seedorf imparts his wisdom

Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf plays for reigning European champion AC Milan and is the only player to win Europe's most prestigious competition with three different clubs: Ajax (1995), Real Madrid (1998), and AC Milan (2003, 2007).

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The 32-year-old Holland international is in Moscow as part of ESPN's broadcast coverage of the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea and is fully qualified to give us the lowdown on UEFA's showpiece event.

Speaking to ESPNsoccernet from the Luzhniki Stadium, as ground staff worked to prepare the pitch for Wednesday night, Seedorf gave us his guide to the Champions League final:

Soccernet:There have been concerns about the state of the pitch. Do you think it could make a real difference to the final?
Seedorf: If the pitch is not good it will definitely make a difference, especially for Manchester.

But I think it will be good tomorrow; it seems like it is going to rain. They just gave it some water, and the teams will play and train on it today, so that will also help to improve the state of the field. Tomorrow hopefully it will be a good pitch and it seems like it is possible.

There are two English teams in the final; we have had all-Spanish and all-Italian finals before. Do you think the final loses something when it is between two teams from the same country?
No, no absolutely not. They are not playing in their own countries, first of all. The atmosphere and the tension is just totally different. You're talking still about great teams. With Chelsea and Manchester both here, it is great for such a final.

I don't know, maybe the public would like to see an English and a Spanish team or an English and an Italian team. But this is good.

Why do you think Premier League sides are becoming dominant in Europe?
The reason that they are really performing better is because there has been a shift in the mentality -- because of the investors. Foreign investors have taken over the clubs and have changed the management of the clubs and changed the mentality of the clubs. The players and the coaches are more international.

So they have changed really the whole approach, and you can see the results over the past three years … I think two times three English teams are in the semifinal. It is not a surprise for me that it is happening. From my point of view, and just from a business point of view, they are managing the clubs better than anybody else at this moment.

Chelsea manager Avram Grant has suffered a lot of criticism, but he has still got his team to their first ever Champions League final. What do you make of him?
I haven't worked with him. A lot of coaches are criticised based on results, so if it's for the results he cannot be criticised, of course. How he is as a manager, how he treats the players and how he is as a coach, that is another thing.

With Real Madrid, when I won [the Champions League] under Jupp Heynckes in 1998, after the final they changed the coach because of other reasons, not because of the results. But I am not the right person of course to talk about the coach of Chelsea.

On the other bench is the old master himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been at the same club for 22 years. What do you think is the secret of his longevity?
First of all, he is a very good manager. A good people manager especially. He is someone who has links with the club from the business management point of view and from the technical point of view. He is that link between the club and the players, and that makes a difference.

He really is an example of what I think is the future of coaches: having the head coach and then having the job done on the field by another coach. So it is not a big surprise that he has managed that way and that people love him, and he has brought the results to Manchester. Over the last 15 years he has entered into two finals of the Champions League and that is quite impressive.

What do you think are the key strengths of his Manchester United team? And of Grant's Chelsea team?
United's strength is their game -- good possession. Their strikers are fantastic of course: [Carlos] Tevez, Ronaldo and [Wayne] Rooney. Great midfield, good defenders: [Patrice] Evra and [Rio] Ferdinand. They are very complete, they have quality players, and that is what their game is about -- craft plays, individual plays by Tevez or Ronaldo.

But it is all going to really depend on how, in the close space they are going to have against Chelsea, they can manage to create space to be able to do the one against one with the defenders.

Chelsea has a great defence. They make the pitch very short, and that is going to be the difficulty for Manchester. And then the counterattack of Chelsea, with Didier Drogba up front and with Michael Ballack in support -- this is going to be the difficult part for Manchester to cope with.

United have a young side, apart from [Ed] Van Der Sar, [Ryan] Giggs and [Paul] Scholes, who are still proving themselves, whereas Chelsea have bought ready-made players who have already achieved. Do you think this will have any effect on the final?
That will definitely have an effect. Experience in a final is very important but also conviction is important: of your own strength, your game and being capable of coping with the tension that the game brings. Of course, the more experienced you are, the better you can cope with it.

That is not a guarantee, but Chelsea definitely has a lot of experience. Maybe not at that club level but playing finals at the World Cup with the national teams, such as Ballack, [Claude] Makelele. Two examples that can make the difference.

Where do you think the game will be won and lost? Will it be a moment of genius from a star player?
Well, it is always like that, the final. I expect a similar game as we saw from Manchester and Chelsea in the [Premier League] competition, really. Chelsea are going to wait for the moment, and Manchester are going to try and create the moment. We will see if they can succeed.

You have played in plenty of finals yourself what makes the Champions League so special for players?
They are the best players and the best teams in Europe, and let's say most of them also in the world. It's the best competition in the world and also the hardest in the world, so everybody dreams about playing in the final.

You have famously won Champions League titles with three different clubs, from Spain, Italy and Holland. Any plans for a fourth with an English club?
[Laughs] Well the English competition is very attractive and I always say "never say never"; but at this moment I still have a contract with AC Milan until 2011.

But I would love to play in England. At this moment it is not possible.

If you were the manager of either team tomorrow, what would you say to them before they went out to play the final?
Well, to go out and enjoy it. It's a special moment. It can be the first and the last final in which you play. Help each other as a group and be a team, because that is going to make the difference at the end.

And finally, what is your prediction for the game? Who will win?
My prediction is … that both really can win. [laughs].

The reason I give for Chelsea is that it is their first time in the final, and maybe destiny is picking.

On the other side I see that Manchester has been ruling the game over the last few years in this competition and they would most probably deserve it over Chelsea from that point of view.

I really think we have to wait for the game tomorrow.


• You can watch him on ESPNsoccernet Press Pass' special broadcast and ESPN's match coverage on the night of the final.

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