Milan's new doctor arrived with a positive prognosis. "You never lose your DNA," said Clarence Seedorf as he prepared for his first match in charge of the Rossoneri this weekend. "You can contract a virus but the anti-virus is already on its way."
None could fault his bedside manner. It is too soon yet to draw firm conclusions about Seedorf's managerial approach but the early impressions are that it will be a lot more Patch Adams than Gregory House. The Dutchman believes firmly that happiness, if not laughter, could be the best medicine for his team.
"I have a huge desire to … transmit enthusiasm and joy, which are the fundamental elements in doing this work to the best of your ability," he continued. "We are all lucky to be able to do this job which is almost like a hobby."
Those words had been pre-empted by his actions, Seedorf arriving at the team's Milanello training base a few days earlier with an infectious enthusiasm. One of his first innovations as manager was to introduce new warm-up drills that borrowed ideas from childhood games like piggy-in-the-middle. Players chased one another without a ball and leapt on each other's backs for safety. "It must be a Dutch game," laughed Kaká when asked about it afterwards. "I've never seen it before in Brazil."
Seedorf opened his team's training sessions up to the public and eyebrows were raised as he threw himself straight into certain drills, one or two observers asking whether he was blurring the lines between his former role as a player and his new one as a manager. But if nothing else his actions certainly seemed to lift the mood of a group that was still reeling from last week's collapse against Sassuolo. He has reminded his players that football is supposed to be fun.
It is a message his employer will certainly endorse. Outside commitments have thus far prevented Silvio Berlusconi from formally welcoming Seedorf to the club but it is no secret that the owner is behind this appointment. He is on record as long ago as 2011 stating that the Dutchman would one day become manager of Milan (albeit he declared in the same breath that Seedorf would play on until the age of 52).
Having previously launched the managerial careers of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, Berlusconi has just cause to trust his own judgment. Others, though, are less convinced by the appointment. Ultras from the Curva Sud hung a banner outside the team's offices last week saying: "Seedorf, no thanks."
The same group had expressed a similar sentiment in response to past rumours of the same appointment, railing against the notion of hiring a manager with no experience at a time when the team was already struggling. Seedorf, after all, has not yet obtained his Uefa Pro Licence. Not even the greatest bedside manner should be enough to persuade a sick patient to put their life in the hands of an entirely unqualified doctor.
Seedorf does not intend to remain one of those for very long, and had begun studying for the relevant badges for months before he left Botafogo. But even once he does obtain the requisite paperwork, he will still have to work hard to convince sceptical fans and journalists that he has sufficient knowledge to survive in an intensely tactical league.
Asked about formations before Sunday's game against Verona, Seedorf confirmed the widely held expectation that he would use a 4-2-3-1, saying that he wanted to take maximum advantage of the attacking talent at his disposal but he also insisted that formations were not the be all and end all. "I hope you won't hammer too hard on this point," he added. "Because I am aiming for a footballing philosophy which can develop over time."
If Seedorf believes that such a statement could save him from further tactical questioning in the weeks and months ahead, then he is in for a disappointment. But he has been involved in this sport long enough to understand the most fundamental truth of his new profession: that the narrative is much easier to control as long as you are winning games.
And on that front, at least, his team got off to a good start, beating Verona 1-0 at San Siro. It had not been an overwhelmingly strong performance from the Rossoneri against opponents who were missing their top striker, Luca Toni, and who had just sold one of their most effective midfielders, Jorginho, to Napoli. Although Milan monopolised possession, they might never have broken the deadlock without the 80th-minute penalty that was gifted to them when Alejandro González needlessly chopped down Kaká in the area.
But this game arrived too soon to expect a revolution. Seedorf had been working for only half a week with a group of players that had scraped together 22 points from their first 19 games of the season, conceding 30 goals along the way. Although he did indeed change up the formation, getting all four of Mario Balotelli, Kaká, Robinho and Keisuke Honda on the pitch from the start, this team inevitably still owed more to Massimiliano Allegri than it did to his replacement.
Even the Italian press, not wanting to draw too many conclusions from the action on the field, seemed to spend as much time watching Seedorf's movement around his technical area. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. The new manager had mostly stayed still and quiet during the game, standing and watching without ever betraying too much of his emotion. Gazzetta dello Sport observed that he had "interpreted his role according to the rules of tennis: no coaching allowed".
This was a change of pace from Allegri's anxious gesticulation. Seedorf took a different approach for the penalty, too, keeping his eyes on the action where his predecessor had developed a habit of turning his back while spot-kicks were being taken.
After scoring, Balotelli pointed towards the bench, acknowledging his new boss. He would later dedicate the goal to Seedorf and express his enthusiasm for the new tactical scheme, which has given him more freedom to drift out wide.
Down in the changing room at full-time the whole team shared what Seedorf would call a "spontaneous hug". He immediately resolved to take such spontaneity out of it in future, stating that, "We'll do it after every match: win, lose or draw."
As with the vast majority of Seedorf's actions so far, it seems to have been well received. Already, the new doctor has succeeded in his first goal of putting a smile back on his patient's face. Healing them, though, will be an altogether greater challenge.
• Milan were not the only Serie A club to change managers this week. Both Catania and Livorno did the same thing – the Sicilians bringing back former boss Rolando Maran, while the Tuscans handed the job to long-time club servant, Attilio Perotti (who has had one brief caretaker stint in charge before now). Both teams subsequently lost this weekend, 3-0, although perhaps we should go easy on them. They were up against Fiorentina and Roma, respectively, after all.
• Alessandro Matri scored more goals (two) in his first 45 minutes on loan at Fiorentina than he had in almost half a season with Milan. Going up against that shambolic Catania defence did not hurt his cause but that is still some comment on how good this Viola team is at creating chances for its strikers.
• Are Inter about to swap Fredy Guarín for Juventus's Mirko Vucinic? Reports suggested that might be the case earlier on Monday, only for the deal to be put on hold – seemingly as a result of the furious reaction from the Nerazzurri's supporters. Both are frustrating players who never seem to play up to their talent on a consistent basis but Guarin, at 27, is three years younger than the Juventus striker, a fact which would seem to skew the deal in the champions' favour. That said, you can understand why Inter might feel they need another striker most of all after a game against Genoa which they wasted chance after chance before finally losing 1-0. Including the Coppa Italia, they have scored just once in their last four games.
• Did Napoli's Scudetto ambitions die with a draw at Bologna on Sunday? Were they even really still alive beforehand? Right now, the Partenopei's more immediate concern should be making sure that they cling on to third place, with Fiorentina snapping at their heels. Napoli are capable of some brilliant football under Rafael Benítez but they have been far too easily overrun in midfield. The signing of Jorginho may help, and further additions are expected, but at a certain point you have to ask whether the manager might do more to shift the balance of his team in order to address this weakness.
Results: Atalanta 1-0 Cagliari, Bologna 2-2 Napoli, Catania 0-3 Fiorentina, Chievo 1-2 Parma, Genoa 1-0 Inter, Juventus 4-2 Sampdoria, Milan 1-0 Verona, Roma 3-0 Livorno, Sassuolo 0-2 Torino, Udinese 2-3 Lazio