Seedorf sees the changing face of European football
It is just short of 16 years since Clarence Seedorf got his hands on the Champions League trophy for the first time, part of a youthful Ajax side that seemingly had Europe at its feet for many seasons to come.
As we now know, things did not quite turn out that way.
Seedorf certainly lived up to his vast potential, becoming one of the most decorated footballers in the history of the game. He has won domestic titles in Spain and Italy as well as tasting further Champions League success with Real Madrid and AC Milan (twice). Still only 34, the Dutch midfielder has achieved the unprecedented feat of becoming champions of Europe with three different clubs.
For Ajax, on the other hand, it is something of an understatement to say they have had a lot leaner time of things since that memorable night in Vienna.
They got as far as the final the following year and reached the semi-finals in 1997. Since then, though, they have been as far as the quarter-finals only once - in 2003. When they made this season's group stage, it was for the first time in five years. They failed to make it through to the next round, finishing third behind Madrid and Seedorf's AC Milan side.
There are many reasons for Ajax's decline as a continental force but their relatively limited finances is probably the biggest.
Seeing as he was the first of five members of that all-conquering team of 1995 to depart on a Bosman free transfer, it is probably no coincidence that, when I asked Seedorf what has changed most about football during his playing career, he replied: "Money. It has definitely played a bigger and bigger role over the years."
The Ajax players celebrate after their 1995 Champions League triumph. Photo: Getty
I found it fascinating to quiz Seedorf, who I interviewed regularly when he spent last summer's World Cup as a BBC pundit, about how football has developed. Here is a thoughtful man who has spent his whole career playing for some of the world's biggest clubs under most of the finest coaches of his generation, like Guus Hiddink, Fabio Capello, Louis van Gaal, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti.
The Surinam-born Dutch international feels his sport has also altered on the pitch as well as off it - and not necessarily for the better.
"Games have become more intense and faster," he explained. "And there are a lot more of them, too. Because of that, there are more injuries."
He suggested a quick fix for that problem when I asked how he thinks the game might develop over the next decade-and-a-half, saying: "I can foresee less matches. I think there will be changes made because the quality is not improving. There are hundreds and hundreds of games played but I think people would like to see 50 very good ones instead, with players performing at their best physically and mentally."
And Seedorf also had an idea for making clubs like Ajax, who do not play in a rich domestic league and lack wealthy benefactors, truly competitive in Europe again, too.
Uefa hope to promote a level playing field through their controversial Financial Fair Play initiative, designed to force clubs who qualify for the Champions League or Europa League to spend only what they earn.
Seedorf, however, feels a further step is needed in order to balance out the inequality in TV money between, say, the Premier League and Dutch Eredivisie, which consequently affects the salaries that respective teams can offer players.
"For the likes of Ajax to win the Champions League again is going to be very difficult," Seedorf said. "For that to happen in the future, there will be a need for them to get into a European league. I don't think teams from smaller countries will be able to compete otherwise. But if that can change, then who knows.
"Clubs need to make sure they are solid financially. Then, if they install a good business model and get the technical aspect right - make a choice on a project or a manager and build long-term - they will be able to compete again at the highest level.
"The big thing for Ajax now, though, is to keep their best young talent for a bit longer. We were a very young side in 1995, with a couple of older players in the team. It was the right combination. Of course, you need a bit of luck, too."
Can it be done? Maybe.
Seedorf points to last year's finalists Bayern Munich as an example of a club who may not have the same spending power as teams from England, Spain and Italy but who still regularly manage to progress deep into the Champions League.
Last season was the fifth time the German giants had reached the quarter-finals or better since winning the competition in 2001.
Bayern are not having a particularly successful season in the Bundesliga but they hold a 1-0 lead over 2010 Champions League winners Inter Milan ahead of Tuesday's second leg. GIven they are within touching distance of the quarter-finals, it was something of a surprise that Bayern announced last week that manager Van Gaal, Seedorf's boss at Ajax, would be stepping down at the end of the season.
Seedorf and Kaka kiss the Champions League trophy after Milan's triumph in 2007. Photo: Getty
Still, Seedorf believes Bayern have demonstrated how it is possible for clubs to make the most of their resources.
"It is not always necessary to have the best players to be able to compete with the best," he said. "Bayern are not the most talented side in Europe - if you compare them with Barca, Real or Inter they just don't have the same quality of players - but this season they have done well in the Champions League, the same as they do most seasons.
"The reason they are so consistent is that they have a great structure and technical vision, and are disciplined in the choices they make with their manager and players."
So who does Seedorf think will conquer Europe this year?
Well, I spoke to him before his side's elimination from the competition at the hands of English side Tottenham last week, when he still held out hope of winning a fifth Champions League for himself.
There was, however, a strong San Siro flavour to his other choices.
Among them was Chelsea, managed by Ancelotti, another of his former bosses. The Blues hold a 2-0 lead over FC Copenhagen ahead of Wednesday's return at Stamford Bridge and look virtually assured of a quarter-final place.
"Chelsea are underdogs [to win the Champions League] if you look the season they are having," said Seedorf. "But I actually think they are quite dangerous now, having seen Ancelotti's quality with Milan. Often he was in difficulties in Serie A but we still did very well in the Champions League, so we should watch them carefully."
Manchester United also have a good chance, according to Seedorf, but it is Real Madrid, another of his former clubs, that he believes could come out on top.
Having triumphed last year with Inter and also with Porto in 2004, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho - like Seedorf - is clearly a man who knows what it takes to win the biggest prize in European football.
The Portuguese is supposedly unhappy at Madrid but can he deliver the Champions League to the Bernabeu for the first time since 2002?
"When I see his teams play, it is always with great intensity," said Seedorf. "He always attains results, so I have to say he is a great manager. I haven't worked with him but you can tell that is the case. He will definitely be the right man for them."
You can follow me on Twitter throughout the season @chrisbevan_bbc