Clarence Seedorf sounds confident ahead of tomorrow’s visit from Atlético Madrid; then again, what’s the new Milan boss suppose to say? That a Milan team that remains lodged in the middle of the Serie A standings is improving but still flawed? That the dramatic turnaround some loyalists hoped for hasn’t happened?
In lieu of such honestly, the four-time Champions League winner (as a player) is offering less committal responses. The recently retired midfielder is promising “a great night” in Milan, while saying Atlético has “weak points” he intends to exploit. Diego Simeone’s team is “one to respect and very strong,” but Seedorf contends his team is “confident although it will be hard.”
If Seedorf’s confidence comes from facing Atlético, he’s making the same mistake many around Italian soccer made when Milan were drawn against the Colchoneros. Though they’ve slumped recently (losing three games in a row earlier this month), Atleti have only lost four times in all competitions this season. Contrast that with Milan, who’ve lost 10 times. The Italian media may be lauding Milan’s chances because they didn’t draw Barcelona or Real Madrid, but their chances to advance are only slightly better against Atlético.
They’re expectations that work against Seedorf, whose meeting with Atlético is being seen as the new head coach’s first major test. In a fair world, he would be judged purely in terms of the incremental progress he makes from the state in which Max Allegri led the team. By next year, Milan may be ready to resume their place near the top of Serie A. Instead, Atlético lack of response beyond Spain has given fans hope.
In all likelihood, it’s false hope. Perhaps a Milan team with Mario Balotelli, Keisuke Honda, and Kaká will finally start converting their league-leading possession into better chances. And maybe Atlético will regress into the slump they’ve just busted. More likely, though, a mediocre Milan’s going up against one of the strongest teams in Europe, and because of their history, the presence of a new coach, and a lack of respect for Atlético, some see them as more than long shots they are.