Clarence Seedorf had only been away for less than two years, but all it took to coax him back to Milan was a call from Silvio Berlusconi. That and the offer of one of the most prestigious jobs in world football. Where the Rossoneri are concerned, Seedorf's connection runs deep.
Ten years with Milan as a player coincided with one of the club's most successful periods under Carlo Ancelotti, with two scudetti and two Champions League titles secured by a side once feared throughout Europe.
How things can change. Seedorf returns for his first managerial job with the club 11th in Serie A and before this weekend, trailing Juventus by 30 points following the departure of Max Allegri. They are a team in transition desperately searching for a forgotten identity
Yet despite Seedorf's pedigree as a player, his appointment has received a mixed reaction in Milan, and the task in hand is daunting. It is easy to understand supporter scepticism. Seedorf, at 37, has no coaching experience but could not turn the opportunity down. He had been playing well for the Brazilian side Botafogo when the call came from Berlusconi, and the answer was simple.
"When he called me I couldn't say no," said Seedorf. "We have a lot to do to get the club back where it belongs and I'm very happy to be back here.
"I feel very emotional and I also feel a sense of duty. I have to give 100% to rebuild, and to give enthusiasm and a sense of security. We can look to do important things for the fans. I left Milan in May 2012 at the end of a cycle. My job now is to open a new one."
Yet Seedorf is unlikely to be afforded any honeymoon period. Milan need results and they need them now, following a campaign where their defence has been weak and their attacking talents – Mario Balotelli aside – have failed to spark. They are six points above relegation, 15 away from the top four and preparing to face Atlético Madrid, joint top of La Liga, in the last 16 of the Champions League next month. Seedorf promised a more attacking style on the eve of his first match in charge at home to Hellas Verona .
"For me it's not a question of one, two or three attackers, it's about a philosophy of how to play. My plan will be to have lots of players in the opposition area," Seedorf said. "Milan's best performances in recent years, for example against Barcelona, took place when we were able to stay in the opponent's half. It is easier to get a result when you play good football. I've seen many of the Milan games so far and I think they deserve more points than they currently have."
Those bold words may yet fall on deaf ears. A banner unfurled by the Curva Sud ultras at Milan's former offices read: "Seedorf, no grazie", while director Adriano Galliani's assertion that "Seedorf will become a great coach because he was a great player" appears misguided at best. Leonardo, who preceded Allegri in the job and was appointed in similar circumstances, could only guide Milan to third in the league and a crushing European defeat to Manchester United during his year at the helm.
In Seedorf's final years with Milan as a player, the club may have secured the title but his role in the side was at times questioned. In 2009 a banner called him "arrogant", while his relationship with Berlusconi was also called into question.
Now, with Milan's internal power struggle intensifying, Seedorf may find his role and allegiances within the club under scrutiny. Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of owner Silvio, remains an important figure within the club. Galliani also remains despite suggestions last year that he was close to resigning.
Yet for all this, one thing certainly counts in Seedorf's favour: he is a born winner. After becoming the first player to win the Champions League with three different clubs, he declared: "I can allow myself to say that I'm not afraid of anyone." That followed Milan's 2003 victory over Juventus in Manchester, matching a feat he previously achieved at Ajax and Real Madrid, before lifting the trophy again for the Rossoneri in 2007 after the disappointment of 2005.
Seedorf is an astute observer of the tactical side of the game, and he knows Milan inside out. Significantly, he becomes the first black manager in the Italian top-flight for 20 years, a symbolic step in a country where racism on the terraces is still rife. He will need all his self-confidence during these first few months in charge as he attempts to re-shape a squad that only recently underwent an overhaul. Defence will be his first priority, but getting the most out of Balotelli, Kaka, Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy is also a major task.
"I still need to get to know the team and do it as quickly as possible," he said yesterday. "However with the desire that I have seen I'm convinced that things will start to go much better than before."